Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said Saturday he is open to the possibility of becoming commissioner of Major League Baseball or a member of the Supreme Court but denied that he was leaving the Senate in hopes of a specific job.
At a news conference in Portland, Maine, and in a subsequent telephone interview, the 60-year-old Democratic leader, who stunned his colleagues Friday by announcing he will not seek re-election this fall, reiterated that he was motivated by a desire to seek "new challenges."
Mitchell, who came to the Senate in 1980 and took over as majority leader in 1989, said he never expected to serve out his life in Congress. "I always thought I would serve a limited time. I never intended that it would be a lifetime position," he said.
Although he acknowledged that the job is "difficult and demanding . . . and can be frustrating," Mitchell denied that he was leaving the Senate in frustration, as some colleagues have suggested.
"It is obviously difficult, and becoming more so, especially if one's concern is for fairness and openness and consultation," he said. But there are also "great rewards" that make the frustration easier to take. "I am not leaving out of any sense of frustration," he added.
Mitchell said he was sounded out for the baseball commissioner's job after a discussion on the Senate floor late one night during a filibuster when senators sat around talking about what they would rather be doing. For Mitchell, an avid Boston Red Sox fan, being baseball commissioner sounded good. One thing led to another and he was asked by a team owner if he was interested. He said no at the time, but added that he would consider an offer now for the still-vacant position.
Similarly, he was sounded out about the Supreme Court last year when President Clinton was considering his first nomination to the high court. Mitchell, a former federal district judge, said no then but subsequently let it be known he would consider a nomination if asked.
He would also consider other jobs in the public and private sector, he said. Asked if he would leave to take another job before his term expires next January, he said, "I hope that doesn't come up,"
Mitchell is the eighth senator _ and fifth Democrat _ to announce plans to leave the Senate at the end of this year, creating more open seats than normal and increasing the slim chances that Republicans, who now control 44 of the 100 seats, could win enough to take over control of the Senate.
Others who have announced impending retirements are John C. Danforth, R-Mo., Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, Donald W. Riegle Jr., D-Mich., Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo., and Harlan Mathews, D-Tenn., who was appointed last year to fill the seat of Vice President Gore.
In addition, there has been speculation that Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., might resign his seat later this year or next year to become president of the University of Oklahoma.