Vice President Dan Quayle declared today that Senate Republicans are furious over the John Tower debacle, and he accused Democrats of trying to weaken the presidency with a “McCarthyite mud-slinging campaign.”
“Never in all my years in the Senate have I encountered anything like the feeling of outrage that exists today among my former Republican Senate colleagues,” Quayle said in a speech to the Indianapolis Economic Club. “Never have I encountered such anger and bitterness in the Senate chamber.”
Quayle was a senator for eight years.
His speech offered an angry but calculated contrast to President Bush’s conciliatory statement that national leaders “owe it to the American people to come together and move forward” in the wake of Tower’s rejection for the post of defense secretary.
Taking up the partisan cudgel in the tradition of other vice presidents, Quayle devoted his entire address to “the implications” of the Tower fight, which ended when the Democratic-led Senate voted 53 to 47 Thursday to refuse a President’s Cabinet choice for only the ninth time in U.S. history.
‘Hot and Heavy’
Although “things often got hot and heavy” during his years in Congress, Quayle noted, he said the sense of outrage today was new.
“I think it’s because every Republican senator understands it is not just the Bush Administration that is under attack, it is the constitutional administration that is under attack--it is the constitutional prerogatives of the executive branch.
“I think it’s because every Republican senator understands that the ability of the President, not only a Republican President but any President, to lead effectively is under sustained and serious attack.”
Quayle asserted that the weeks of public debate over Tower’s personal as well as his professional background had “dangerously lowered” the ethical standards of government.
“You would think that in this dangerous world of ours, Democrats and Republicans alike would agree on the need for keeping the executive branch strong so that it, in turn, can help keep America strong,” he said.
But because Democrats have lost five of the last six White House elections, he alleged, “they have begun to ask themselves, ‘Why do we need a strong presidency?’ . . . So instead of working with Republicans to keep the presidency strong, they set out to undermine (it) by encroaching on its powers.”
Reference to McCarthy
The vice president went back in history to draw an analogy for the Tower battle, referring to the infamous “red-baiting” days of anti-communist Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
“Everyone understands that this is not politics as usual,” Quayle said, “that this trial and conviction by rumor is a violation of standards of decency that hasn’t been seen on the Senate floor since the days of ‘Tailgunner Joe.’
“The supreme irony in all this is that just as those who are trying to undo the Constitution’s separation of powers piously invoke the Constitution, so those who engage in a McCarthyite mud-slinging campaign piously claim to be the stern upholders of public morality.”