10 Unsuccessful Senate Confirmations


John Tower

John Tower at his 1989 Senate confirmation hearing.
John Tower at his 1989 Senate confirmation hearing.
Terry Ashe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Tower was only four years into his retirement from a 24-year career as a Texas senator when newly elected President George H.W. Bush nominated him for secretary of defense in 1989. Four years, it turned out, wasn't quite long enough to purge the Senate of Tower's legion of enemies.

Tower's former colleagues, who'd been the recipients of Tower's abusive legislative tactics in the Senate, "burned [him] at the stake," Tower later wrote of the confirmation hearings in a memoir [source: Waldman]. The Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Georgia senator Sam Nunn, laid bare all of Tower's past indiscretions, including excessive drinking and womanizing. Tower's hearings generated intense media exposure and the fact that he'd been pilloried by the same Senate committee he'd chaired before his retirement left Tower bitter [source: Waldman].

Tower's nomination was rejected by a 47 to 53 vote. He became the first initial Cabinet nominee in a new presidency in U.S. history to be rejected [source: U.S. Senate].