John Tower, Ron Brown et al.

January 05, 1993

Ron Brown goes before the Senate Commerce Committee tomorrow for his confirmation hearings as secretary of commerce. Republicans say they may subject him to "the Tower standard." One potential nominee, Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado, was not nominated for secretary of energy out of fear he would be done in by such treatment. For those with short memories, John Tower was the Texas Republican ex-senator who was rejected as secretary of defense in 1989 because of tough questions at his confirmation hearing regarding, among other things, his close ties to defense contractors.

Senator Wirth had relationships with energy producers that might well have compromised him in the sense Mr. Tower would have been compromised. But we suspect Senator Wirth lost out for personal reasons. He was one of Senator Tower's most outspoken critics, and elephants never forget.

Mr. Brown is not a former senator, but as a private attorney he and his firm had many clients whose best interests are not always in the national interest. Could he overcome conflicts of interest when his firm deals with his department? Republicans have a right to examine that issue closely and extract firm commitments to avoid even an appearance of favoritism. Other nominees have other problems, other baggage, and Republicans have a right to examine them closely, too.

We hope Senate Republicans won't be too partisan. The Tower confirmation hearings were not one of the Senate's shining hours. Testimony dragged on for two months at the start of the Bush administration, and led to the first rejection ever of a new president's cabinet choice -- a choice we felt deserved to be confirmed.

We sense Republicans don't scent blood this time. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole said "we don't have a hit team. You start out with the general view that the president is entitled to have his people on board, unless there is some glaring reason not to." Correct. The nation needs and deserves a working Cabinet confirmed as soon as possible.

That does not mean Republican critics of Clinton nominees should refrain from asking tough questions or expressing objections. It does not mean Democrats, who control the Senate, should try to railroad nominees through.

But the sooner a Cabinet is in place, the sooner the Clinton administration can become fully responsible -- no excuses -- for trying to right the wrongs in the economy and society that Democrats described during the campaign.

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