Senate Rejects Tower Nomination by 53-47 : 1st Defeat for an Original Cabinet Pick

Times Staff Writer

The Democratic-controlled Senate dealt President Bush a smashing blow Thursday, rejecting the nomination of former Sen. John Tower as secretary of defense--the first time any American President has been denied one of his original Cabinet choices.

The 53-47 vote culminated six full days of bitter, partisan quarreling on the Senate floor and nearly three months of political turmoil caused by numerous allegations that Tower, 63, a dapper Texan, had been guilty of drunkenness, womanizing and sharing secret insights into U.S.-Soviet arms negotiations with defense contractors.

It was an especially humiliating setback for the President, not only because it came only 48 days after his inauguration, but also because Bush’s own lobbying had yielded votes from only three Democratic senators, two of whom owed some personal loyalty to Tower.


Only one Republican--Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas--voted against confirmation.

Both Bush and Tower greeted the defeat with equanimity, each calling for a truce between Congress and the White House. “We owe it to the American people to come together and move forward,” the President said.

Reverberations Expected

Tower’s defeat was expected to send strong reverberations through the government in the weeks and months ahead--poisoning the general political climate in Congress and coloring many important decisions of national defense to be made at the White House.

“This has been a dirty process,” lamented Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), a staunch Tower supporter who like most Republicans said that he was disillusioned by the outcome. “Do I think there will be hard feelings lingering? I do indeed. It’s not going to be something that is soon forgotten because it can’t be.”

Democrats, however, told Bush they deeply regretted the personal and partisan enmity that had been created by the Tower affair and pledged to make amends. “This vote is not and should not be interpreted as a vote to harm the President,” stressed Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.).

Not since 1959 when the Senate rejected Lewis Strauss, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s nominee for commerce secretary, has any Cabinet appointee been denied confirmation by the Senate. Moreover, Tower was only the ninth Cabinet nominee in history ever to be rejected.

But what made the loss even more startling was that Tower was rejected by a Senate in which he had served with distinction for 24 years, a Senate known for its chumminess and a Senate where stories of drunkenness and womanizing by members are legend. Indeed, Tower is the first former senator ever to be deprived of a Cabinet role by his former colleagues.


New Nominee Sought

At the White House, Bush quickly turned his attention to finding a new nominee--someone sufficiently qualified to pass muster in the Senate as well as someone whose choice would help to reverse the apparent loss of morale at the Pentagon caused by Tower’s defeat.

At least one list of potential candidates was relayed to the White House personnel director, Charles G. Untermeyer, within two hours of the vote, according to a White House source.

Among those believed to be under consideration by Bush are three former defense secretaries, Republicans Donald H. Rumsfeld and James R. Schlesinger and Democrat Harold Brown; Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.); former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.); former Rep. Jack Edwards (R-Ala.); Donald B. Rice, president of Santa Monica-based RAND Corp.; former Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, who is now chief executive of Union Pacific Corp.; Energy Secretary James D. Watkins, a former admiral; Martin Marietta chief executive Norman R. Augustine; Alcoa Chairman Paul H. O’Neill, and Brent Scowcroft, Bush’s national security adviser.

Bush, who had rejected recommendations to withdraw Tower’s nomination before it went down to defeat, also issued a statement expressing gratitude and regret to the defeated nominee and his family. “Instead of the recompense of a grateful nation,” he said, “John Tower’s lot in the past weeks has been a cruel ordeal.”

Pleaded for Support

White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that Bush never saw the fight as a personal one, even though he had called many wavering senators into the Oval Office over the last two weeks to plead with them to support Tower.

“The important thing is to find the best candidate that’s available to the President, a person the President has confidence in, believes can do this job and can move in rapidly under the circumstances,” Fitzwater said.


But he added that the President would take his time to make the right choice. “The world will not come to an end if there’s not a candidate tomorrow,” he said.

The President’s admirers on Capitol Hill, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), praised him for his loyalty to Tower--”a scarce commodity in this town, as we have seen in this process.”

At the Pentagon, where Tower has been working in an unofficial capacity for the last two months, the mood was somber as the defeated nominee received dozens of telephone calls and visits from sympathetic acquaintances, including Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the service secretaries. Crowe brought him a small, wrapped gift.

For Tower, who headed the Senate Armed Services Committee in the early 1980s, it was the end of a career-long dream to run the Pentagon. Tower announced after the vote that he intends to resume his private life in Texas.

“I depart from this place at peace with myself, knowing that I have given a full measure of devotion to my country,” he said. “No public figure in my memory has been subjected to such a far-reaching and thorough investigation nor had his human foibles bared to such intensive and demeaning public scrutiny.”

Some Republicans speculated that Bush might later select Tower for another Administration post, possibly a job inside the White House that does not require Senate confirmation. Tower himself pledged to “speak out from time to time on national issues when my knowledge, experience and insights may contribute to public debate.”


At the heart of Tower’s troubles was a newly evolving standard of conduct for government officials--a standard that calls on them to avoid drug and alcohol abuse, show respect for the rights of women and avoid conflicts of interest. These are part of the stiff standards that Congress has imposed in recent years on the Pentagon and the military.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who was Tower’s leading accuser, argued consistently that the Senate could not confirm a person to run the armed forces whose behavior runs counter to the rules set for everyone else in the chain of command.

Allegations in Report

Nunn and other Democrats said that an exhaustive FBI investigation had found that Tower was a frequent binge drinker whose personality was altered by large quantities of alcohol, that he had a history of “indiscreet behavior” with women and that he showed no sensitivity to appearances when he resigned as chief U.S. arms negotiator and immediately went to work advising defense contractors for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tower’s Republican defenders countered that the FBI’s findings were based on unreliable witnesses and that the nominee had been denied the right to adequately defend himself against these charges.

Despite a herculean lobbying effort by the White House, it was Tower’s pledge to stop drinking, if confirmed, as well as his personal ties with two senators that gained him the three Democratic votes. Nobody credited Bush with persuading them to vote for Tower.

Both Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) and Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) said they were willing to give the former senator a chance to live up to his no-drinking pledge. In addition, Bentsen felt strong ties to Tower after they served 14 years in the Senate from Texas.


Tower’s third Democratic supporter was Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). In 1967, Tower was one of five senators who voted against the censure of Dodd’s father, former Sen. Thomas Dodd, on charges of financial misconduct.

Republicans fretted that the Tower affair might set what Wilson described as “a new, evil, ugly and dangerous precedent” for the nominating process, which usually gives the President broad latitude to select whomever he wants. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) suggested that future nominees should even be permitted to cross-examine their accusers.

But Nunn replied that the Tower nomination was a unique event in American history. As he put it: “I do not believe that we’ll have another nomination with this number of allegations and this controversy in my lifetime.”

Staff writers James Gerstenzang, David Lauter, John M. Broder, Melissa Healy, William J. Eaton and Josh Getlin contributed to this story.


Here is the vote by which the Senate on Thursday rejected the nomination of John Tower as defense secretary:

Democrats for (3): Bensten, Tex.; Dodd, Conn., and Heflin, Ala.

Republicans for (44): Armstrong, Colo.; Bond, Mo.; Boschwitz, Minn.; Burns, Mont.; Chafee, R.I.; Coats, Ind.; Cochran, Miss.; Cohen, Me.; D’Amato, N.Y.; Danforth, Mo.; Dole, Kan.; Domenici, N.M.; Durenberger, Minn.; Garn, Utah; Gorton, Wash.; Gramm, Tex.; Grassley, Iowa; Hatch, Utah; Hatfield, Ore.; Heinz, Pa.; Helms, N.C.; Humphrey, N.H.; Jeffords, Vt.; Kasten, Wis.; Lott, Miss.; Lugar, Ind.; Mack, Fla.; McCain, Ariz.; McClure, Ida.; McConnell, Ky.; Murkowski, Alaska; Nickles, Okla.; Packwood, Ore.; Pressler, S.D.; Roth, Del.; Rudman, N.H.; Simpson, Wyo.; Specter, Pa.; Stevens, Alaska; Symms, Ida.; Thurmond, S.C.; Wallop, Wyo.; Warner, Va., and Wilson, Calif.


Democrats against (52): Adams, Wash.; Baucus, Mont.; Biden, Del.; Bingaman, N.M.; Boren, Okla.; Bradley, N.J.; Breaux, La.; Bryan, Nev.; Bumpers, Ark.; Burdick, N.D.; Byrd, W.Va.; Conrad, N.D.; Cranston, Calif.; Daschle, S.D.; DeConcini, Ariz.; Dixon, Ill.; Exon, Neb.; Ford, Ky.; Fowler, Ga.; Glenn, Ohio; Gore, Tenn.; Graham, Fla.; Harkin, Iowa; Hollings, S.C.; Inouye, Hawaii; Johnston, La.; Kennedy, Mass.; Kerrey, Neb.; Kerry, Mass.; Kohl, Wis.; Lautenberg, N.J.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Lieberman, Conn.; Matsunaga, Hawaii; Metzenbaum, Ohio; Mikulski, Md.; Mitchell, Me.; Moynihan, N.Y.; Nunn, Ga.; Pell, R.I.; Pryor, Ark.; Reid, Nev.; Riegle, Mich.; Robb, Va.; Rockefeller, W.Va.; Sanford, N.C.; Sarbanes, Md.; Sasser, Tenn.; Shelby, Ala.; Simon, Ill.; and Wirth, Colo.

Republicans against (1): Kassebaum, Kan.