Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Cabinet of Dr. Feelgood

In light of Donald Joffrey Trump's failed nomination of presidential physician Adm. Ronny Jackson as Secretary of Veterans' Affairs, Snookerback Saturday takes a look at a few other aborted cabinet nominations of the past.

The Granddaddy of failed cabinet nominations was President Andrew Johnson's attempt to appoint Lorenzo Thomas as Secretary of War in 1868. It was not the first such appointment, but it was the only one that resulted in the impeachment of a U.S. President.
"The Situation," unsigned in Harper's Weekly, March 7, 1868
Republicans in Congress had passed a law to prevent Johnson from firing Edwin Stanton (holding the cannon sponge in the above cartoon), the Secretary of War whom he had inherited from Abraham Lincoln. Johnson fired him anyway — twice — and named Major General Lorenzo Thomas (leaning against Johnson) to replace him. Congress drew up eleven articles of impeachment, three of which charged that Thomas's appointment was unconstitutional, and four more of which accused Johnson and Thomas of conspiring "to hinder and prevent Edwin M. Stanton, then and there, the Secretary for the Department of War...from holding said office."

The Senate ultimately fell one vote shy of the 2/3 majority needed to convict Johnson, but by then, the president had agreed to withdraw Thomas's nomination. Stanton didn't get the job back either;  Gen. John Schofield served as Secretary of War for the remaining months of the Johnson administration.

The Thomas episode revolved about momentous policy issues of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Modern Day failed nominations so far have not risen to the level of impeachable offenses, but we'll see what happens when Trump tries to replace the top echelons of the Justice Department with Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, and whoever does his hair.

In the meantime, I'm starting with President George H.W. Bush's nomination of Senator John Tower (R-TX) to be Secretary of Defense in 1989. As a Senator, Tower had wielded considerable power and influence as Chair of the Armed Services Committee; after leaving the Senate, he headed the presidential commission investigating the Iran-Contra affair. Some conservatives of the day considered him too moderate, however, and other colleagues found him brusque and overbearing. Once he was named to President Bush's cabinet, he was beset by allegations, leveled at him during a bitter divorce two years earlier, that he was a boozer and womanizer.

For the first time in history, the Senate rejected an incoming president's cabinet nominee, voting 47-53 against their former colleague. Some Senators were only too happy to give Tower his comeuppance. "They're pretty straightforward what they do in Beirut," Tower said later, comparing Washington D.C. to the then war-torn capital of Lebanon. "They hurl a grenade at someone or shoot a machine gun. Up here, it's a little more subtle, but just as ruthless, just as brutal. They kill you in a different way."

Bush's replacement nomination of Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney went off without a hitch, and I'll probably come back to this cartoon again someday. But let's move on to the next administration and its stumble out of the blocks trying to name an Attorney General.

ZoĆ« Baird was Bill Clinton's first nominee to head the Justice Department in 1993, but was compelled to withdraw after it became public that she and her husband had hired undocumented immigrants as nanny and chauffeur; moreover, they had not paid required Social Security taxes on those employees' wages.  It turned out that Clinton's second choice, Kimba Wood, had also hired an undocumented immigrant as a nanny; but unlike Baird, she had paid the woman's Social Security taxes. Wood had done nothing illegal, but the stink of "Nannygate" resulted in Clinton going with his third choice, Janet Reno.

Nor was Clinton quite finished fumbling his Justice Department appointments. He withdrew his appointment of Lani Guinier as Assistant Attorney General in June of 1993 over Republican complaints that her academic writings supposedly revealed her to be a "quota queen."

Kimba Wood, by the way, has been back in the news lately as the judge presiding over motions arising out of the search warrant of Trump affair-fixer Michael Cohen's home and office.

Returning to the Clinton Administration: After the resignation of Secretary of Defense Les Aspin in December, 1993, Clinton named Admiral Bobby Ray Inman to replace him. Aspin had not been popular within the Pentagon, and took the fall for military fatalities in Somalia.

At first, Inman's appointment basked in bipartisan support; but then he abruptly withdrew his nomination, angrily complaining to the press about New York Times columnist William Safire accusing him of "anti-Israel bias." Inman also claimed that Senators Bob Dole (R-KS) and Trent Lott (R-MS) were planning to "turn up the heat" on his nomination, which both senators denied.

There have been other unsuccessful cabinet nominations since these, but none that I have cartooned about, I'm afraid. As had Baird and Wood, a couple of George W. Bush's nominees had undocumented immigrant troubles; now that we have a president whose hotels, golf courses and other assorted ventures have no doubt seen their share of undocumented workers, I guess that's not such a big deal any more. The Obama administration started off with a trio of failed cabinet nominations: Tom Daschle, Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg all withdrew from consideration for one reason or another.

I don't recall any of those past presidents calling up cable TV morning news crews to throw a tantrum live on the air, however. Unless perhaps Andrew Johnson sent a nasty telegram to Harper's Weekly.

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