When Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) cast the lone GOP vote Thursday against John Tower’s nomination to be defense secretary, it was just the latest example of an independent streak that has earned her respect in both parties.
Three years ago, the daughter of 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alfred M. Landon bucked the Ronald Reagan Administration by voting for economic sanctions against South Africa and by helping to lead the Senate in an override of the President’s veto.
More recently, Kassebaum challenged the Reagan Administration’s policy of seeking a military solution to the Nicaraguan civil war, and she has voiced abortion positions that set her apart from most other Senate Republicans.
“Nobody can say she is an automatic, hard-line party vote,” one Senate aide said. “She has strong conservative views and more often than not votes with her party, but she votes her own mind, that’s for sure.”
On Thursday, Kassebaum, 56, released a four-page statement explaining her opposition to Tower, saying: “I have discussed this matter in some detail with the President. I believe he understands my thinking just as I understand his.”
In prepared comments that the publicity shy Kassebaum did not actually deliver on the Senate floor, she charged that Tower’s work for defense contractors shortly after leaving his position as a U.S. arms-control negotiator “raises very serious concerns about the nominee’s judgment.”
Kassebaum, who formerly headed the Senate’s Military Reform Caucus, suggested that the Pentagon procurement scandal has shaken public support for defense spending and said that Tower’s actions, while not illegal, “demonstrate to me an enormous insensitivity to issues and questions that have been at the heart of our defense debate for years.”
The Kansas senator, sensitive to allegations that Tower is a womanizer, also questioned whether he would “demonstrate the necessary sensitivity” to women’s rights issues in the military. She noted a recent Pentagon study indicating that women face serious problems with harassment and promotion in the armed forces.
Until her statement was released an hour before Thursday’s vote, Kassebaum took no part in the often vitriolic Senate debate. But she criticized the “circus atmosphere” surrounding the nomination, contending that the news media had been irresponsible in reporting allegations about Tower that had not been proved.