Even as a second Democrat joined with Republicans in supporting former Sen. John Tower as secretary of defense, Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) predicted Tuesday that President Bush’s nominee will not be confirmed by the Senate.
“I believe that, when the vote occurs, the nominee will be rejected,” declared Mitchell, a cautious vote-counter who until now had refused to predict the outcome of what is becoming one of the bitterest, most divisive Senate fights in recent history.
Dodd Supports Nominee
Mitchell’s prediction apparently took into account the decision of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to join one other Democrat--Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama--in supporting Tower. Heflin announced his position Monday.
Dodd, who had spent several weeks agonizing over his decision, said he decided to support Tower on the basis of the evidence--not just because Tower was one of five senators who in 1967 voted against censuring Dodd’s father, former Sen. Thomas Dodd, for financial misconduct.
“I owe John Tower; I owe John Tower the same fairness and judgment he used 22 years ago,” he said. “I do not owe John Tower my vote.”
Then he added: “I have weighed the facts, and I have come to the belief that John Tower is qualified to serve as secretary of defense.”
Republicans, in what so far has been an unsuccessful search for a majority, have encountered a strong reluctance on the part of the remaining handful of undecided senators--both Republicans and Democrats--to cast the deciding vote in favor of Tower.
“There are several Democrats who don’t want to be the deciding vote,” Sen. J. James Exon (D-Neb.) said. “There are several Republicans who don’t want to be the deciding vote.”
The President needs at least five Democratic votes for Tower--combined with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Dan Quayle--to overcome the Democrats’ 55-45 edge in the Senate. And he would need even more Democrats if Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S. D.) and several other wavering Republicans decide to vote against Tower.
As the Senate debate dragged on for a fourth day, the strain of the long fight was apparent on the floor --particularly in a sharp exchange between Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S. C.). Dole condemned Hollings for characterizing Tower as “Mr. Alcohol Abuser,” but Hollings refused to back down.
Also, Dole hotly objected to a decision by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) that authorized employees of the Senate’s permanent investigating subcommittee to probe new allegations of public drunkenness by Tower--including one alleged incident in a VIP lounge at Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport.
Dole asserted that creation of what he called “the Nunn strike force” had demonstrated that Democrats were only out to get Tower.
Bush Reiterates Support
At the White House, the President reiterated his support for Tower--as he has frequently throughout the debate--and challenged the 71 incumbent senators who served in the Senate with Tower to explain how he could be an alcohol abuser if none of them had ever seen him drunk.
“I haven’t had one single senator--not one--(who) served with him over the years say: ‘I have seen him. My first-hand evidence is this man is ineligible because of his consumption of spirits,’ ” Bush said. “Not one. And isn’t that a little bit unusual?”
Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) replied that the President was operating under a misconception about the experience of the senators. “This senator has seen Sen. Tower under the influence of alcohol on this floor, as he has seen other senators,” he said.
Nevertheless, DeConcini acknowledged under close questioning by Republicans that he had never witnessed Tower “inebriated to the extent he could not perform his duties"--a threshold that Republicans contend must be crossed if the nomination is to be rejected.
Mitchell then questioned whether senators could trust their own experience in light of Tower’s admission that he drank to excess during part of his 24-year tenure in the chamber. “The argument that we didn’t see him in that condition is completely undermined by the fact that he himself admits he had a problem of excess drinking during the 1970s,” he said.
In addition, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N. D.) said that the results of a lengthy FBI investigation of Tower’s drinking habits show him to be a true binge drinker. “When he ties one on, he’s out of control, he can barely walk, he’s not in a position to discharge the responsibilities of the secretary of defense,” he said.
Mitchell pleaded with the Republicans to wind up the debate and permit a vote, but Dole indicated that the GOP wanted to keep discussing the issue until a majority had been persuaded to support Tower. “This has just barely started,” he said.
Still pending before the Senate is Dole’s threat to bring to a vote the question of whether Tower may come to the Senate floor to defend himself against all charges of drunkenness, womanizing and conflict of interest. Democrats are expected to oppose the idea.
Dole freely admitted that the proposal was part of his delaying tactic.
It was Dole’s statement on ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley” last Sunday that brought Hollings to the floor in a rage and precipitated an extraordinary shouting match between the two men. The minority leader had accused Hollings of leveling unjustified, “vicious personal attacks” on Tower.
“There’s a vicious attack on me when you do that kind of thing,” Hollings said. “I challenge and request: when has anything been vicious, when has there been an attack?”
Dole replied that he was referring to Hollings’ characterization of Tower as “Mr. Alcohol Abuser,” and he asked: “Where’s the fairness in all of this?”
Undaunted, Hollings replied that his characterization of Tower was justified by the FBI findings. He added: “I’ll say it again, because that’s the record, alcohol abuser.” He said he disagreed with Tower’s assertion on television last Sunday that excessive drinking does not constitute alcohol abuse.
Earlier, Dole had squared off with Nunn over the continuing investigation of Tower being conducted by the staff of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, also headed by Nunn. Dole argued that the FBI--not Senate investigators--should be investigating the case.
Later in the day, Nunn announced that the White House had agreed to resume the FBI investigation of Tower. He said he had referred about 10 allegations to the agency, most of them involving alcohol abuse.
Key senators are refusing to disclose how they will vote. Page 14.