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Alabama’s Heflin Is First Democrat to Back Tower : He Accepts Vow to Stop Drinking

Times Wire Services

John Tower won his first declared Democratic supporter in the Senate today when Alabama’s Howell Heflin said he will vote for his nomination as defense secretary, delivering a major boost to the troubled nomination.

In a Senate speech announcing his intention to support the nomination, Heflin noted that Tower had made a solemn public pledge to abstain from alcohol if confirmed.

Because of this, Heflin said, Tower would “live in a glass bowl . . . he will be watched by everyone,” with the nation’s press acting as the most persistent watchdog.

Heflin said that because of Tower’s pledge and his belief that President Bush would not retain a secretary of defense who had a drinking problem, “I am willing to rely on his pledge and give him a chance to prove himself.”

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Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia walked to Heflin’s side moments after the Dermocrat completed his speech, and thanked him.

Heflin, who had been courted by the Bush Administration, bucked the growing list of Democrats who have come out against the nomination. He cited Tower’s qualifications; the “uncertain state of the evidence” against the nominee, specifically the allegations included in an FBI report on the nominee, and the alcohol pledge as the reasons for his decision.

He spoke just hours after an angry President Bush said he is “sick and tired of the rumors and innuendoes” blocking Tower’s confirmation.

Using the beginning of a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience to get something “off my chest,” Bush demanded that members of the Senate “put aside partisanship” and approve the nomination of Tower--"this decent man.”

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“I’ve asked them to use their own experience with John Tower as an expert on defense issues, as a former colleague and as a tough hard-nosed negotiator to guide them as they move towards a vote on this nomination,” the President said.

Bush called the former Texas senator “a fellow veteran, a lifelong public servant” and “a fighter.” Tower was not present for the speech, although the White House had said he would be. Officials said later that Tower had had a previous commitment.

“I stand by this man,” Bush told his wildly cheering audience. “I stand by him because he is uniquely qualified as the right man to take charge of the Pentagon.”

“Enough for that now,” the President said. “Going to get it off my chest. I’m getting sick and tired of some of the rumors and the innuendo that are used against this decent man.”

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“You know John Tower is a fellow veteran,” he told the VFW.

“Now, he and I are fighting for what I think are some very important principles--principles that the American people understand, like fairness and truth, and principles like the prerogative of a President of the United States to assemble the most talented and qualified team to guide this nation forward.”

In two days of Senate debate last week, Democrats argued that the cumulative evidence made Tower an unacceptable nominee. Republicans said that their colleagues have given too much weight to unproved allegations and that Bush was entitled to a Cabinet of his choosing.


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