Beneath the Bush Administration’s determination to stick with defense secretary-designate John Tower to the end, there is a lively but still-unofficial debate over who will be next if Tower goes down in defeat on the Senate floor.
At issue, said sources close to the Administration, is not only who the best candidate is to lead the Pentagon into an era of belt-tightening and reform, but how the President should respond to the Senate in the wake of a repudiation of Tower, his first choice.
Should Bush’s next pick be someone designed to please the very lawmakers who are bent on dealing his Administration a harsh political blow in its infancy? Or should the President use the opportunity to show Congress who’s boss?
The debate has split Republican strategists, and White House insiders suggest the rift is reflected among Bush’s inner circle of advisers.
The range of candidates whose names are now circulating is broad.
There is a trio of former defense secretaries--Republicans Donald H. Rumsfeld and James R. Schlesinger and Democrat Harold Brown.
There is another former lawmaker--Jack Edwards, the Alabama Republican who voluntarily gave up a congressional seat and recently co-chaired a commission recommending the closing of obsolete military bases. And there is a pair of retired military officers already in the Administration--Adm. James D. Watkins, Bush’s energy secretary, and Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the President’s national security adviser.
So far, the White House has brooked no public discussion from its ranks about possible replacements, wary of undercutting the already hard-pressed lobbying effort to keep Tower’s chances alive.
Asked whether any list of candidates exists, one Bush Administration official said flatly: “None. Zero. None.”
But another Administration official familiar with the process said: “It’s absolutely foolish not to be considering alternatives and considering people for these priority positions . . . I’m sure it’s being discussed in little pockets.”
Melvin R. Laird, a former Richard M. Nixon Administration defense secretary who has advised Bush on transition matters, acknowledged that “advice to the President has been divided” over how long to stick with Tower and to whom to switch if the expected Senate rejection comes this week or next.
Sources say there is some support for Bush making his next move a defiant one, reasserting his primacy over national security issues with a Tower-Scowcroft switch.
Under that scenario, Scowcroft would slide over to the top Pentagon post and Tower would become national security adviser, a job that does not require Senate confirmation. That would allow Bush to keep Tower in a key policy post despite the Democrats’ snub and at the same time not risk a confirmation backlash against Scowcroft, who is widely respected by both parties.
Two Republican strategists said the idea has been discussed within the Administration, but acknowledged there is disagreement on its wisdom.
Such a stroke is “the only thing you could do to save political face” after an embarrassing, personal defeat, said one Administration official, adding: “What do you do when this guy, your friend, is getting clobbered?”
Bush, while refusing to discuss any second choices, has fed the speculation about such a counterpunch nomination with his angry rhetoric on Tower.
Bush ‘Wants’ Tower
There is “the right of the President to have--historical right--to have who he wants in his Administration,” Bush said in his press conference Tuesday. “I want him.” And he could have Tower--as national security adviser.
But other prominent Republicans said they fear such a ploy would only infuriate Democrats and provoke them to paralyze future Administration legislative efforts that will require bipartisan support.
Should Bush choose instead to appease his congressional opponents in an effort to restore bipartisan cooperation, other options might be more likely.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the center of the Democratic effort to defeat Tower, said last week that there are “all sorts of people” who have strong national security credentials, and no heavy burden of allegations, who would pass muster.
Making the same point, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) cited Rumsfeld and Schlesinger as prime choices, adding: “If the President sends another name up here, it’ll be confirmed by a heavy majority.”
Such a choice by the President might fall short of a strong statement, however, and within Bush’s circle of advisers those particular men have some problems. In January, Schlesinger’s reputation as an acerbic intellectual with questionable political loyalties helped cost him the job of energy secretary in the Bush Cabinet. Schlesinger had served as defense secretary in the Nixon and Gerald R. Ford administrations and as energy secretary for Jimmy Carter.
Rumsfeld, while a Bush adviser in the final phases of the 1988 campaign, began the race in the camp of Bush’s chief rival, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a fact that Laird said has weighed against him. Moreover, sources say that Bush’s relations with Rumsfeld, who is now a Chicago-based investment banking adviser, remain strained from bureaucratic battles waged when Bush was CIA director and Rumsfeld secretary of defense during the Ford Administration.
For his part, Laird said he thinks President Carter’s defense secretary, Harold Brown, would be a good choice. “Brown is a very strong national security advocate who understands the Pentagon very well. He’s not a partisan person when it comes to defense.”
A number of other names have surfaced from the ranks of politics and industry.
Donald B. Rice, president of the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp., would be unlikely to face a challenge from Nunn, the leader among Democrats in defense issues. Rice has been an informal adviser to Nunn as well as a golfing partner.
Drew Lewis, whose name was floated for the top Pentagon job before Tower was named, is a favorite candidate among those who seek a tough budget-cutter and a hands-on manager with business experience. Lewis, a former Ronald Reagan Administration transportation secretary, is chief executive officer of the Union Pacific Corp. and served recently on the congressionally created National Economic Commission that explored methods of reducing the federal budget deficit.
Requires Law Waiver
Watkins, a retired high-ranking Navy officer held in high regard by both parties, might be a popular choice for rebuilding a bipartisan spirit. However, his choice would require Congress to waive a 1947 law that prohibits retired military officers from serving in the senior defense position within 10 years of leaving the service. Scowcroft would not face that problem, having left the Air Force more than a decade ago.
Like Tower, Jack Edwards would bring a knowledge of Congress and an expertise in the fine print of the defense budget to the Pentagon’s top job. But critics say that unlike Tower, Edwards is no grand policy strategist, an important trait for that job.
Republican strategists predict that Bush will stick to his Tower pattern by choosing someone with broad policy vision who would complement his nominee for Pentagon’s second-in-charge, Donald J. Atwood, a former General Motors executive with strong management expertise.
That might rule out previous runners-up like Martin-Marietta chief executive Norman R. Augustine and Alcoa chairman Paul H. O’Neill.
But it would allow Bush options for either a defiant gesture or a conciliatory one, whichever way Bush decides to play the next round in the Pentagon nomination.
In the end, said one GOP source, Senate Democrats may “rue the day” they thought they won the Tower battle.
Staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this story.
SOME CANDIDATES FOR SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
Harold Brown, 61, defense secretary in the Carter Administration. A physicist, was president of Caltech from 1969 to 1977 and was secretary of the Air Force and director of defense research and engineering during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Now chairman of the board of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies.
Jack Edwards, 59, a 10-term congressman from Alabama until 1986 and now an attorney in Birmingham. Was ranking minority member on the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. Co-chaired the defense secretary’s commission on base closure and realignment last year, which recommended the Pentagon shut down 86 obsolete military bases.
Drew Lewis, 57, transportation secretary in the Reagan Administration from 1981 to 1983 and currently chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Union Pacific Corp. Was nominated by Reagan to the National Economic
Commission, a bipartisan panel established to study ways to reduce the federal deficit.
Donald B. Rice, 49, president and chief executive officer of the RAND Corp., a Santa Monica-based research firm that conducts studies under federal contract, mainly for the Defense Department. An engineer, was one of the Defense Department’s “whiz kid” specialists in systems analysis from 1967 to 1970. From 1971 to 1972, was assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Donald H. Rumsfeld, 56, defense secretary for two years during the Ford Administration. Now an investment banking adviser and chairman of the board of the conservative San Francisco think tank, the Institute for Contemporary Studies. From 1977 to 1985, was chief executive officer of G.D. Searle & Co., a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm.
James R. Schlesinger, 60, defense secretary to Presidents Nixon and Ford before Ford fired him over policy differences. Was the nation’s first secretary of energy under President Carter. An economist by training, had been chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Nixon. Now a senior adviser to Shearson-Lehman Bros. Inc. and to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Brent Scowcroft, 63, Bush’s national security adviser. Retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 1975 and served in a range of National Security Council posts throughout the Nixon and Ford administrations. During the Reagan Administration, directed a presidential commission on strategic force modernization that proposed developing a small, single-warhead mobile missile. Served with Tower on Reagan’s Special Review Board investigating the Iran-Contra affair.
James D. Watkins, 62, confirmed unanimously by the Senate as energy secretary. A nuclear submariner, retired from the Navy as an admiral and served from 1982 to 1986 as chief of naval operations. After leaving the Navy, chaired Reagan’s AIDS commission.