WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has ordered his Cabinet officers and other senior White House officials, male and female, to comply with the law on hiring domestic help to avoid any repetition of the "nanny problem" that has now twice embarrassed the administration in its search for an attorney general.
Appointees will be required to pay back any taxes they owe for domestic help. Mr. Clinton told reporters: "I think everybody will do what they're supposed to do."
Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have not violated any laws in hiring household workers in the past, said George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director.
The only Cabinet member known to have faced the problem is Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, who acknowledged Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he failed to pay Social Security taxes for a part-time domestic worker for four of the past five years.
Mr. Brown, a lawyer and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he was initially unaware of the law that requires taxes to be paid on any worker who is paid more than $50 in a three-month period, and he said he had now paid the taxes and penalties.
White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum briefed all Cabinet officers and senior officials on the requirements of the law and told them they must comply with it. Mr. Stephanopoulos said: "This was an issue we all became sensitized to after the Zoe Baird case."
The issue dominated yesterday's daily press briefing, distracting attention from the announcement about a new environmental office inside the White House and the visit of Turkish President Turgut Ozal.
The administration's move came in the wake of the withdrawals in the past two weeks of lawyer Zoe E. Baird as nominee for the attorney general's position, and U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood from consideration for the slot.
Both were scuttled by their employment of illegal aliens. While Ms. Baird admitted knowingly breaking the law, Judge Wood employed the illegal immigrant before it was unlawful to do so, filed the necessary papers with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and paid the appropriate taxes.
Those reportedly under active consideration yesterday for the top Justice Department post include Jamie S. Gorelick, president of the Washington, D.C., bar association, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, and New York prosecutor Robert Morgenthau, who broke the BCCI scandal.
Ms. Gorelick, an expert in white-collar crime, works for the Washington law firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin. She was a candidate for the White House counsel's job and is still in line to be general counsel at the Defense Department. She did not return a reporter's phone call yesterday.
Others reportedly being considered include Mary Jo White, acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Lindsey Miller-Lerman, a judge on the Nebraska Court of Appeals; Andrea Ordin, a Los Angeles lawyer, and Susan Gertzendanner, a former federal judge now in private law practice.
Finding an acceptable attorney general has proven an unexpectedly difficult and delicate challenge, opening the Clinton administration to charges of political ineptitude and imposing a "double standard" on female candidates.
Although both his good-faith attempts to appoint a female attorney general collapsed, Mr. Clinton now may be under even greater pressure to hold to his diversity pledge and name the first female to head the Justice Department.
"What terrible irony it will be if the first two women nominated, or rumored to be nominated, are knocked out because of child care issues and then the president simply goes back to the old way of doing things -- finding a rich white man," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
While there would have been great disappointment among women's groups if, in the aftermath of the initial Baird debacle, Mr. Clinton had chosen a man, "There will be even broader disappointment -- even anger -- if we now see it go to a man," added Ms. Ireland.
NOW yesterday launched a campaign to encourage its 600 chapters to call the White House, Congress and radio talk shows to object to the "double standard" and "double burden" being placed on women.
"I'm hearing it from apolitical women and from Clinton women," said Natalie Davis, a Democratic national committeewoman and political science professor at Birmingham Southern College in Alabama. "There's a sense that there's something really messed up."
She said the president could now get away with nominating a man of stature such as Mr. Mondale, or a Clinton confidante such as Bruce Lindsey, currently a senior White House aide.
"What he can't get away with is naming a man who's largely unknown or who might represent a Washington law firm -- a safe choice. If it's a good old boy from a Washington law firm, people will think he's just taking the easy way out," she said.
White House officials insisted there was no "double standard" because the nanny issue was never raised with any appointees until Ms. Baird volunteered the facts of her hiring an illegal alien to the administration, which initially did not regard it as a serious problem. She was forced to withdraw her nomination under intense questioning from Congress, amid a public outcry.
In Judge Wood's case, the officials said they were concerned that she was "less than forthcoming" in repeated White House interviews and that her employment of an illegal alien would have made her confirmation almost impossible.