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Senate leaders say Breyer could win confirmation

Senate leaders of both political parties said that one of President Clinton's top candidates for the Supreme Court could win approval, even though he failed to pay Social Security taxes for his domestic help.

White House officials said Boston jurist Stephen Breyer had failed to pay the taxes for part-time help because of ignorance of the law and had since made up the difference.

Both Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and Minority Leader Bob Dole appeared on television talk shows Sunday to endorse Breyer and say that his nomination could win Senate confirmation.

Clinton told reporters that Breyer's status as a potential nominee was unchanged.

"There has been no change, and I'll have an announcement later," the president said during a Sunday afternoon visit to a bookstore with his daughter, Chelsea.

Appearing on ABC's This Week With David Brinkley program, Mitchell said that "I don't think, by itself, (the tax problem) is disqualifying. I think that Judge Breyer has a very distinguished record."

"I think he's qualified and would be an excellent justice to the Supreme Court," Dole said on CNN's Newsmaker Sunday.

Clinton on Saturday interviewed Breyer, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston, for the nomination to replace retiring Justice Byron White. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is another possibility.

White is resigning at the end of the court's current term this summer.

White House officials have said they were taking Breyer's failure to pay the Social Security taxes seriously, but they did not think that disqualified him for the job.

Dole agreed, saying his circumstances differed from those of several earlier administration choices for top posts who had to be dropped because they had problems with paying taxes for domestic help.

"I think there is a distinction because this particular person (Breyer's housekeeper) is over 65 years old, already drawing Social Security," Dole said, adding that she was only part-time.

White House officials have argued that Breyer did not have a "Zoe Baird" problem. Baird had been tapped to be U.S. attorney general but ran into trouble when it was revealed she had hired an illegal alien.

Breyer's problem was faced by two men who are now members of Clinton's Cabinet _ Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, an official noted.

Federal Judge Kimba Wood had to drop out of the running for attorney general after it was revealed she did not pay Social Security for domestic help. Women's groups might argue there was a double standard in place if Breyer is nominated.

The Supreme Court selection is the first by a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson picked Thurgood Marshall in 1967.