Confirmation Controversies: An Overview

President-elect George W. Bush has picked his prospective Cabinet, but may have to fight some political battles to have all his nominations confirmed. Here is a look back at some of the most contentious confirmation struggles of recent years.

Nominated as Attorney General In February 1985, the Senate confirmed President Reagan’s appointment of Ed Meese as attorney general, by a 63-31 margin — but only after a bruising, yearlong confirmation process. It was one of the longest confirmation battles in history, dragged out amid questions about whether Meese gave government posts to people who lent him money. A special prosecutor looked into the allegations and found no wrongdoing.

Robert Bork (1987)

(AP Photo) Nominated for the Supreme Court Robert Bork, picked by President Reagan for the Supreme Court, was rejected 58-42 by a full Senate vote in October 1987 following a fierce four-month confirmation struggle. After Reagan named Bork in July, Democrats and interest groups gradually rallied support against the nominee by portraying him as a judicial extremist whose conservative views would roll back the country’s commitment to civil rights, privacy and individual liberties. Bork may also have hurt his own chances with an emphatic defense of his views, instead of taking a conciliatory approach, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. Six Republicans voted against Bork — a sign of Reagan’s waning political influence late in his second term. It marked just the fourth time in the 20th century that a Supreme Court appointee had been rejected. The rhetoric surrounding the vote was heated: Reagan called the hearings “an ugly spectacle marred by distortions,” a charge Democratic Sen. Terry Sanford deemed “slanderous.”

Douglas Ginsburg (1987)

Nominated for the Supreme Court Appeals court judge Douglas Ginsburg, picked by Reagan in October 1987 after Robert Bork’s appointment was rejected, withdrew his own nomination after just nine days. Following published reports, Ginsburg admitted having to smoking marijuana within the past decade, during his tenure as a professor at Harvard Law School. Ginsburg said his legal views were being “drowned out in all the clamor” over his past drug use.

John Tower (1989)

Nominated as Defense Secretary Former Texas Sen. John Tower was tapped by President Bush to become defense secretary, but the nomination quickly ran into trouble as opponents questioned Tower’s business dealings with defense contractors. The confirmation hearings also brought Tower’s personal life squarely into the public eye, with some critics alleging he drank excessively. At one point, Tower pledged to quit drinking entirely if confirmed, but his appointment was rejected 53-47 by the Senate in March 1993.

Clarence Thomas (1991)

(Joe Marquette/AP Photo) Nominated for the Supreme Court Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was the subject of the most unusual confirmation battle of recent decades. Initially, Thomas, then an appeals court judge, seemed likely to be approved by the Senate in routine fashion, although numerous Democrats charged he was too conservative or inexperienced to be appointed, and had not been forthcoming in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the tenor of the confirmation process changed after law professor Anita Hill, who had worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testified before the Senate that he had harrassed her at work by making sexually suggestive comments and by describing pornographic movies he had watched. After lengthy televised hearings in which Thomas claimed he was being subjected to a “high-tech lynching,” he was confirmed 52-48 by the Senate in October 1991.

Zoe Baird (1993)

(AP Photo) Nominated as Attorney General President Clinton’s first choice to be attorney general, Zoe Baird, then general counsel of Aetna Corp., withdrew after one day of confirmation hearings in January 1993 after the public disclosure that she and her husband had employed a Peruvian couple — a nanny and a chauffeur — without work papers.

Kimba Wood (1993)

Nominated as Attorney General Kimba Wood, a judge from New York, was President Clinton’s choice for attorney general following Zoe Baird’s withdrawal. But Wood, too, was forced to withdraw abruptly after disclosing she had hired an illegal immigrant as a baby sitter in 1986. Wood insisted she had been in compliance with the law, which at the time allowed the hiring of undocumented workers, but acknowledged she had not fully explained the situation to the president’s staff when being considered for the post.

Lani Guinier (1993)

(AP Photo) Nominated as Assistant Attorney General In June 1993, President Clinton withdrew the nomination of Lani Guinier, an attorney and law professor he had picked as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Guinier had drawn heavy criticism from Republicans over her views on affirmative action and voting rights. In pulling the plug on Guinier’s nomination, Clinton said he had come to realize she endorsed views “that I, myself, cannot embrace.” But Guinier continued to insist that she had been “the right person for the job.”

Bobby Ray Inman (1994)

Nominated as Defense Secretary Bobby Ray Inman, a former admiral in the Navy, withdrew his nomination as defense secretary in January 1994, apparently concerned about inquiries into his past business dealings. At a news conference announcing his decision, Inman accused his critics of practicing “modern McCarthyism.”

Henry Foster (1996)

(AP Photo) Nominated as Surgeon General President Clinton’s choice to replace Dr. Joycelyn Elders as surgeon general, Dr. Henry Foster, was stymied in June 1995, when a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate blocked his nomination. Foster’s career as a gynecologist who had performed abortions helped galvanize GOP opposition to his appointment.

William Weld (1997)

(Julia Malakie/AP Photo) Nominated as Ambassador to Mexico Weld, a popular former Republican governor of Massachusetts, was picked by President Clinton in 1997 to become ambassador to Mexico. But Weld’s selection was torpedoed by a fellow Republican, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee refused to hold hearings on the appointment. Helms charged that Weld held overly permissive views on social policy and refused to yield, despite public efforts by Weld to force Helms’s hand.

Anthony Lake (1997)

(Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo) Nominated as CIA Director Anthony Lake, then President Clinton’s national security adviser, was nominated for CIA director at the outset of Clinton’s second term, but withdrew from consideration in March 1997 after Republicans in Congress objected to the administration’s foreign policy and relations with China. “Washington has gone haywire,” said Lake, who also called his confirmation hearing a “political circus” after pulling his name from consideration.