A commenter yesterday was wondering: why John Tower? Why did the Senate turn on him in 1989, when George H.W. Bush nominated him for Secretary of Defense?
It certainly was a big deal, in many, many ways. First, as I've noted several times, as a precedent: before that, the Senate had a long tradition of pretty much rubber stamping every cabinet-level nominee (the exceptions were few, and usually in the final year of a presidency)...after that, cabinet confirmations have been far more contentious. But the Tower rejection in particular had two enormous consequences. Tower's replacement was Dick Cheney; if Tower is confirmed, Cheney stays in the House and probably never becomes VP, and who knows what policy consequences flow from that. Meanwhile, Cheney had been House Minority Whip, and he was replaced there by Newt Gingrich. If Tower is confirmed, Cheney, and not Newt, likely winds up as Speaker of the House in 1995.
As a Senator, Tower was actually a historic figure; when he won the special election to replace LBJ, he became the first Republican elected to the Senate from a confederate state.
As far as why Tower got into trouble, however...as far as I know, it was pretty much all personal, based on drinking, other misbehavior ("womanizing"), and, presumably, just not being a very nice person. Most of the public discussion was centered on drinking, but I think it was generally thought that his former Senate colleagues were happy to have an excuse to do him in. I'm sure there was also more than a little partisan opportunism, too, but if the question is why Tower and not the other Bush nominees, that doesn't really explain anything. In the event, three Democrats and all the Republicans supported him, and he lost 47-53.
At any rate, all of this is mostly just an excuse to copy out an anecdote from the Congressional Record I came across last night while I was doing yesterday's Watergate post. It's from the debate over establishing the Senate Watergate Committee, and the Republicans are offering an amendment to ensure they get a share of the staff on that committee...the conservation gets into whether Republicans should be entitled to a share of staff funding, or personnel, or if it needs to be specified that it's professional staff. We're in February 1973, and this is what things were like in the United States Senate:
Mr. TOWER. One thing that worries me about that -- would the Senator read that again, please?
Mr. ERVIN. It reads: "The minority members of the select committee shall have representation on the staff of the select committee equal at least to one-third thereof."
Mr. TOWER. That worries me a little, because that means that the majority might have all the professional staff and the minority might get all the secretaries. Under certain circumstances, that might be desirable. [Laughter.]
But in this particular instance, I think that what we are concerned about is...