John Tower's nomination as defense secretary erupted into a fierce partisan battle today as Democratic opposition mounted and Republican leader Bob Dole said the matter is "of minute-by-minute concern" to President Bush.
The Senate Armed Services Committee met in private for the second straight day to review a lengthy FBI report on Tower, and leaders said a public vote might be held later in the day.
Tower has been battling allegations of womanizing and excessive drinking, and also faces questions stemming from his consulting work for defense contractors before his nomination. Even his closest supporters concede that he had a drinking problem in the 1970s but they say it no longer exists.
Today a second Democratic senator, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, announced that he will vote against the nomination, and said he believes that the panel's influential chairman, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), is leaning in the same direction. Nunn had no comment.
The second-ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. J. James Exon of Nebraska, announced Wednesday that he will vote against Tower.
Shelby, a conservative Southerner, said in an interview with CNN today that he opposes the nomination, and added: "The nominee is crippled, beyond repair. So many serious allegations have been raised. Those allegations have not been answered to my satisfaction."
Shelby added: "I haven't done a vote count, but I believe Senator Nunn opposes him. If I oppose him and other members from the South (do) . . . , that's it."
Firm GOP Defense
Republicans replied with a firm defense of Tower, a former Armed Services Committee chairman, in back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor by Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Dole, the GOP leader. Both men said they had never seen Tower when he wasn't fit for duty.
Regardless of the committee vote, the nomination is expected to go to the full Senate, which set aside next Wednesday and Thursday for debate.