The Senate today confirmed Rep. Dick Cheney as defense secretary, 92 to 0, one week after President Bush selected the six-term Wyoming congressman to replace rejected nominee John Tower.
The ratification procedure ended a nearly two-month Senate struggle over the Pentagon post that was marked by a bitter, partisan debate over the selection of Tower and quick consideration of Cheney.
On March 9, the Senate rejected Tower by a 53-47 vote largely along party lines and handed Bush a major defeat in his first high-stakes clash with Congress.
The Pentagon post was the last Cabinet position to be filled in the President’s 8-week-old Administration.
“Dick Cheney is qualified to be secretary of defense,” said Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who led the fight to kill the Tower nomination and came under harsh criticism for his handling of the proceedings.
Words of Praise
Nunn used his time on the Senate floor to defend the committee’s process and to detail the steps the panel took on the nomination. The words of praise for a friend were then left to Wyoming’s two Republican senators.
“I trust Dick Cheney, I trust how he behaves in life, I trust his intelligence, I trust his integrity, I trust his friendship,” said Sen. Malcolm Wallop.
Republican Whip Alan Simpson said he and Wallop felt a mixture of pride and sadness because their state’s congressional delegation was losing a man of “distinction and honor and rare political savvy.”
“We’re going to miss our friend,” Simpson said.
Alluding to the furor created over allegations of excessive drinking by Tower, both Wallop and Simpson conceded that they occasionally had a beer with Cheney.
“I even had a suds or two with him,” Simpson told his colleagues.
But Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said Cheney is a “man of great moderation with the suds.”
Senators cited allegations of drinking and womanizing against Tower as well as conflict of interest concerns from his past ties to defense contractors. The battle over the nomination also produced angry accusations of partisanship among members of the Senate.
Trying to put the rancorous struggle in the past, Bush took just 24 hours before announcing the selection of Cheney.
The Senate Armed Services Committee acted with equal speed, holding a single day of public hearings and spending less than 15 minutes Thursday to discuss the selection and vote 20 to 0 to recommend full Senate approval.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said that although he supported the nominee, he thought there should be “some mention of the rush to judgment on this nominating procedure.”
Specter cited the Bush announcement last Friday, the committee’s single day of hearings on Tuesday and the vote Thursday.
“This timetable ought not to set a precedent,” Specter said. “This is a bad precedent.”
But Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, defended the panel’s process. And Nunn said that if this was a rushed judgment, the Senate did the same for Bush’s other nominees.