The Robert Gates File: Senate’s Doubtful Dozen

Kerry, Biden, Levin and 9 other current senators voted against Gates in 1991. Have they changed their minds?

WASHINGTON — In 1991 when Robert Gates underwent confirmation hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee to be Bush Senior’s Director of Central Intelligence, 31 senators voted against him. (The final vote was 64-31, with 5 not voting.) Of those 31, 12 are still in the Senate; Mother Jones asked all of them where they stand today; of the 12, John Kerry was the only one to answer our questions in full.

Carl Levin, D-Mich.: Told ABC’s “This Week” on November 12 that “I hope that his confirmation hearings can be held and that he will get a vote prior to the end of this Congress.”

In a press conference November 13, Levin elaborated: “For me, the important thing with Mr. Gates is whether or not he is independent, whether or not he’s going to speak truth to power — or will he do what Secretary Shultz said that he did, which was to shape the intelligence and the information in order to support policy. We had enough of that with George Tenet. We had enough manipulating intelligence, shaping intelligence in order to give the policy-makers what they wanted to hear.”

Max Baucus, D-Montana: “In the spirit of moving along,” Baucus told The Hill earlier this week, he would likely support Gates this time around. “Gates is certainly qualified.”

Joe Biden, D-Del.: The incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair told ABC that “I am inclined to vote for him now.” He added: “I know some of his views on Iraq. I know he wasn’t of the Rumsfeld school. And to put it very, very bluntly, as long as he is not there, Rumsfeld is.”

Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.: Did not want to comment until hearings were completed.

Kent Conrad, D-N.D.: Did not return calls or emails.

Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. (press release): “It is my fervent hope that a new Secretary of Defense will do what this Administration has seemed unwilling to do up until now — listen to our generals about our security needs both in Iraq and elsewhere. … These hearings will certainly explore his past tenure at the CIA fifteen years ago, including prior allegations of politicized intelligence. … It is my hope that his past experience has sensitized him to the danger that politicized intelligence can pose to our nation’s national security.”

Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: A spokeswoman told Mother Jones: “For now he is reserving judgment and keeping an open mind, but in light of this Administration’s track record for politicizing intelligence, and given Gates’ background, he is not optimistic this is an ideal choice.”

Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. (press release): “We thank Secretary Rumsfeld for his service. Clearly now is the time to give our men and women in uniform new leadership and a new policy that is worthy of their enormous sacrifice.”

John Kerry, D-Mass., through a spokeswoman, was the only member to fully answer Mother Jones‘ questions:

Q – What do you think of Robert Gates as the new Secretary of Defense?

A – It was about four years overdue for Don Rumsfeld to go. Where do we go from here? We need honest questions and substantive answers, and I’m going to follow the Gates confirmation hearings very closely to determine his willingness to push and adopt a new strategy in Iraq. Obviously it is encouraging that Robert Gates opposed this war from the beginning, but we need to understand where he thinks the policy needs to go today.

Q – You voted no in 1991, how would you vote today?

A – I had concerns way back then because I’d been so involved in the Iran Contra investigations and the BCCI investigations. I had reservations, and I voted them. He did things as CIA Director that assuaged some of those concerns. That’s why I’ll follow these hearings closely and with an open mind.

Q – Is this a decision for a lame-duck Congress to make?

A – The question is whether we have a thorough debate and what it reveals. I think people are going to take this confirmation very seriously in light of the kind of mess we’ve had at DOD the last six years.

Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.: Has made no specific statement on Gates, but told the Ashbury Park Press that Rumsfeld’s resignation will likely result in “more competent management and fuller support of the war in Iraq.”

John Rockefeller, D-W. Va. (press release): “The president’s choice may signal that he is searching for a realistic and pragmatic approach in Iraq and the war on terror, rather than continuing on a course driven by ideology.”

Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.: Did not return calls or emails.

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