Senators fired their opening volleys today in a party-line floor battle on John Tower’s faltering nomination, while the White House conceded that President Bush has failed to persuade a single Democrat to support his chosen defense secretary.
“Not yet,” responded White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater when asked to provide the name of one Democrat the Administration had won over after two days of intensive lobbying.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, began the long-awaited debate, saying he was acting with a “sense of sorrow” in leading the opposition against his former colleague.
Nunn said that when the committee began hearings into Tower’s nomination he expected that he would in “good faith support the nominee. My mind was changed by the facts presented to the committee.”
He said Tower’s “record of alcohol abuse cannot be ignored.”
‘Someone at Very Top’
“We’re not talking about the secretary of Interior, we’re talking about someone next to the President at the very top of the nuclear chain of command,” Nunn said.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), in rebuttal for the Republicans, extolled Tower for “incalculable contributions” to the United States in 24 years in the Senate and later service on an arms negotiating team.
Meanwhile, the ranks of opposition Democrats continued to grow as Sen. Terry Sanford of North Carolina, a Southern Democrat the Administration had hoped to see in its corner, said he will vote against the nomination. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) also said he will oppose the nomination--raising the number of opposition Democrats to 38.
Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate. An Associated Press tally today showed 43 Democrats and Republican Larry Pressler of South Dakota either solidly opposed or leaning in opposition, and 40 Republicans either solidly for Tower or leaning in favor of the nomination.
No Senate vote is expected until next week.
Despite the obvious numbers, Bush is “still pleased with the candidate and still believes he’s the best man for the job,” Fitzwater said.
Tower, meanwhile, met at the White House with Bush, Adm. William J. Crowe and Deputy Defense Secretary William Howard Taft IV, who is serving as acting defense secretary.
The nominee has been dogged by allegations of excessive drinking, womanizing and questions about his ties to defense contractors. Over a 2 1/2-year period, Tower received more than $1 million in consulting fees from such defense industry giants as North American Rockwell and Martin Marietta.
Tower has said he has no intention of giving up the fight for confirmation and has taken a rare public pledge to give up drinking of any kind if he becomes defense secretary.