Pubdate: Mon, 01 Mar 1999
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 1999 Associated Press
Author: Tom Raum,  Associated Press Writer


WASHINGTON - Some congressional critics of President Clinton's
certification of Mexico as an ally in the drug war are moving to
formally challenge the decision. But they seem unlikely to muster the
votes needed, and some are conceding it could be an exercise in futility.

"Clearly there are not the votes to succeed with a challenge, and
having a divisive battle on the floor makes no sense," Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement.

Feinstein was a leader in the 1998 effort to block the annual
certification of Mexico as an anti-drug partner, but says she won't
challenge the president  this year, even though she still has serious
reservations about his decision.

Most of the vocal criticism of the president's move is coming from the
House side.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said, "Mexico has not done
enough to meet the requirements of our law." And Rep. Benjamin Gilman,
R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Relations Committee,
called Mexico's record "dismal" and said Clinton's certification
"cannot stand."

Reps. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and Clay Shaw, R-Fla., were expected to
introduce a decertification resolution today.

Rep. John L. Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the Government Reform
subcommittee on counternarcotics, scheduled a hearing for Thursday and
said he believed the decertification resolution would draw substantial

"In terms of cooperation, we get a big fat zero from Mexico on
specifics," Mica said in an interview.

But congressional leadership aides said it seemed doubtful the
resolution could win a majority in both chambers, let alone the
two-thirds that would be needed to override a near-certain veto.
Congress has 30 days, until April 1, to act.

In its annual review of 28 countries that produce or serve as conduits
for illegal drugs, the administration on Friday cited only two   Burma
and Afghanistan   for not fully cooperating in counternarcotics efforts.

By law, countries found not to be fully cooperative are decertified
and can be subject to economic sanctions.

Critics of the decision claim Mexico has an abysmal record in fighting
drug  trafficking.

But both Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House Speaker
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., have hinted they don't plan to make a major
effort to block the certification.

"It's not even on my radar screen," said John Czwartacki, a spokesman
for Lott. Even so, he said, "options are being mulled."

Even so, Mica said the speaker "has asked us to do a thorough review"
and he did not think Hastert was "closed to decertification."

In the Senate, the opposition is more muted.

A bipartisan group of eight senators, led by Sen. Charles E. Grassley,
R- Iowa, sent a letter to Clinton requesting that the process for
measuring Mexico's progress be reviewed   and that next year's
decision be tied to specific accomplishments.

"The government of Mexico has taken steps to improve its law
enforcement cooperation," the letter said. "But far more, we believe,
needs to be done." Feinstein and Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., who last
year led the effort to overturn the certification, were among those
who signed the generally conciliatory letter.

Coverdell is the chairman of a U.S.-Mexico legislative conference in
Atlanta this spring. Congressional aides suggested he does not want to
anger the Mexicans by actively pressing for drug decertification at
this time.
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MAP posted-by: Derek Rea