Personality matters. In this year, a heavily Democratic Senate narrowly rejected President Dwight D. Eisenhower's nomination of Lewis Strauss, a crusty former admiral, to be Commerce secretary. Strauss had antagonized senators as head of the Atomic Energy Commission and had demanded to cross-examine hostile witnesses -- including senators.
1969 and 1987
The conservative-liberal divide:
In 1969, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected two of President Richard M. Nixon's Supreme Court choices Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell. The conservative nominees, both appeals court judges, faced strong opposition from civil rights groups. In 1987, by a vote of 58 to 42, the Senate rejected President Ronald Reagan's nomination of conservative scholar and judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
Modern cabinet (and other) woes:
The Democratic Senate rejected former Texas senator John Tower's nomination to be President George H.W. Bush's defense secretary in 1989 after questions were raised about womanizing, abuse of alcohol and relationships with defense contractors.
President Bill Clinton lost several confirmation battles. In 1993, his choice for attorney general, Aetna general counsel Zoe Baird, withdrew after a furor over her failure to pay Social Security taxes for a nanny and chauffeur who lacked work papers. That same year, he withdrew his nomination of law professor Lani Guinier for assistant attorney general for civil rights, saying he had been unaware of her controversial views on how to enhance minority representation.
In 1994, retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, stung by press and Senate criticisms of his record, asked Clinton to withdraw his nomination as secretary of Defense.
In 1997, Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser, dropped his bid to become CIA director, after he was torpedoed by opponents who viewed Lake as too dovish for the job.
Nanny problems are bipartisan. President George W. Bush's 2004 choice for Homeland Security chief, Bernard B. Kerik, dropped out after conceding he did not pay taxes on an illegal nanny. In 2001 Bush's choice for labor secretary, Linda Chavez, withdrew her name after revelations that she housed an illegal alien.
SOURCES: Senate Historical Office; "Legislative Power Over Appointments and Confirmations" by Richard Alan Baker in the Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System, Vol. III; and the Brookings Institution's "A Survivor's Guide for Presidential Nominees."