President Bush made a fresh show of public support for John Tower today, but prospects of Senate confirmation dimmed for the defense secretary-designate when a key conservative Democrat announced his opposition.
"We must not have reservations and doubts. We cannot take a chance," said Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who met with Bush at the White House earlier in the week to discuss the nomination. He had been counted among the handful of Democrats most likely to swing behind the nomination.
DeConcini made his decision public as Republicans used the second day of floor debate to demand justice for the former senator from Texas and to call for an end to partisanship in the bruising confirmation struggle.
'Justice for My Friend'
"He is my friend. I thought he was your friend and I want justice for my friend," Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told his colleagues.
"If I were President of the United States and the Senate turned down John Tower, I'd send his name back up again," Stevens said.
Tower, Adm. William J. Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft greeted Bush when the President's motorcade pulled up to the Pentagon this morning. It was the latest in a string of presidential gestures by which Bush has demonstrated his continued support for the appointment, which is in jeopardy of rejection by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
'Appearance of Bias'
Bush and his advisers were briefed on a NATO exercise. Bush and Tower also met with the Armed Forces Policy Council, an advisory panel to the secretary of defense consisting of the Joint Chiefs and other top military officials.
On the Senate floor, DeConcini said he was concerned over the "appearance of bias" raised when Tower moved from arms negotiator to defense industry consultant, and said the current defense procurement scandal mandates "public confidence and support" in the defense secretary. He also said in a printed statement that Tower's "character and attitude toward alcohol could erode morale and leadership" in the armed forces.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers must be guided by the FBI report, which others have said is replete with multiple allegations of excessive drinking and indiscreet behavior toward women.