Cheney Quickly Sworn In to Defense Post : In Wake of Tower Episode, He Takes Oath After 92-0 Senate Vote
Dick Cheney was swiftly sworn in as defense secretary Friday after sailing without dissent through the Senate that only a week earlier had climaxed a brutal battle by rejecting President Bush’s first choice for the job.
Cheney, winning Senate confirmation by 92 to 0 and resigning as Wyoming’s lone representative in the House, became the nation’s 17th Pentagon chief, taking the oath of office at an informal ceremony that completed the formation of Bush’s Cabinet.
Former Sen. John Tower of Texas, Bush’s first nominee for secretary of defense, was rejected by the Senate, 53 to 47, on March 9.
“I am proud to have the opportunity to serve the President of the United States and the nation as secretary of defense,” Cheney said as he was sworn in to office.
“But at the same time, I will miss the House. And more than anything, I regret that I must step down after representing the state of Wyoming for 10 years,” he added.
The action on Cheney capped a nearly two-month Senate struggle over filling the Pentagon job. The rancor surrounding the Tower nomination was largely absent as the Senate moved quickly last week on Cheney, although some bitterness remained.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) complained that the Senate had “rushed to judgment” on Cheney after the dispute over Tower and with a two-week recess looming.
“There’s hardly been a chance for people to find out about Congressman Cheney’s nomination in the press, media, to sit down and write a letter and have it delivered,” Specter said. “I think we’re correct, and I’m prepared to vote for Congressman Cheney, but I do think this timetable ought not set a precedent.”
Sen. John Warner of Virginia, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, denied that Cheney was put on a fast track, noting that because Cheney was a congressman, his financial records were already on file. In addition, Warner said, the FBI expedited its background check.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) the committee chairman, later responded more pointedly, saying: “I gather what he (Specter) wanted us to do was to wait for the rumor and innuendo to come in.”
Nunn led the fight to kill the Tower nomination and came under harsh criticism for his handling of the proceedings. The Georgia Democrat used his time on the Senate floor to defend the committee’s process.
Word of praise for a friend and colleague 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 of Wyoming.
And Wyoming Sen. 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 involving allegations of excessive drinking by Tower, both Wallop and Simpson said they at times 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 was a “man of great moderation with the suds.”
Senators had cited allegations of drinking and womanizing against Tower as well as conflict of interest concerns from his past ties to defense contractors.
The Tower turmoil has not been easily forgotten. On Thursday, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) released an unclassified FBI report that said an investigation of Tower had turned up “a prior pattern of alcohol abuse.”
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), without mentioning names, used his time on the Senate floor Friday to criticize Hollings for releasing the report.
“Some of my colleagues aren’t content even with the John Tower defeat,” Dole said. “They’re still out trying to assassinate the character of an honorable man.”
Hollings, however, said the FBI finding of a pattern of alcohol abuse should lay to rest claims that Tower was simply a victim of rumor. The FBI memorandum directly addressed the rumor issue, saying the bureau reported its findings only after an investigation marked by “complete thoroughness.”
Cheney was sworn into office by David Cooke, director of administration and management in the office of the defense secretary.
Present were Cheney’s wife, Lynne, their two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, and the new Pentagon chief’s parents, Richard and Marge. A formal oath-taking ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday at the Pentagon.
A special election will be held in Wyoming to fill the House seat vacated by Cheney.