When Robert Bloom decided in January not to be what he later called "a skunk at a garden party" by criticizing Bert Lance's nomination as budget director, he was not alone.
Bloom, then acting comptroller of the currency, was merely following a long tradition established by the Senate itself - that a President's nominees are virtually always approved, that advise and consent really means consent, that the confirmation process is half rubber and half stamp.
Senate Records show that only eight Cabinet appointees have been rejected and that since World War II only 16 major non-Cabinet appointees have been rejected either by committees or by the full Senate.
"The tradition is to handle the nominations quickly, and unless something awful has jumped out, the Senate has not exercised independed judgement," said a Senate staffer.
Another said presidential nominees are "almost never rejected on policy grounds. They can be crummy, mediocre, not qualified, even in industry's pocket, and if they haven't done anything criminal, they're approved. You almost have to be found with one finger in the cookie jar to get rejected."
The last Cabinet nominee voted down by the Senate was Lewis L. Strauss, President Elsenhower's choice for Secretary of Commerce. Strauss, a crotchety admiral who had been head of the old Atomic Energy Commission, was rejected 49 to 46 in June, 1959, largely because he had alienated half the Senate during his six-month fight for confirmation. He had also been accused of concealing a conflict of interest on the part of another official in the controversy over a government contract to let the Dixon-Yates power combine set up a huge plant in Arkansas.
The first Cabinet officer rejected by the Senate was Roger B. Taney, President Andrew Jackson's nominee for Treasury Secretary. Taney later was appointed to the Supreme Court and wrote the Dred Scott decision of 1857 denying citizenship to blacks and helping to precipitate the Civil War.
The Senate also turned down Caleb Cushing, whose name was submitted three times by President John Tyler in 1843 for Treasury Secretary; David Henshaw, nominated that year as Navy Secretary; James M. Porter, also nominated in 1843 as Secretary of War; James S. Green, named the next year by President Tyler as Secretary of the Treasury; Henry Stanbery, President Andrew Johnson's choice in 1868 for Attorney General, and Charles B. Warren, whom Calvin Coolidge nominated three times in 1925 to be Attorney General.
In the post-World War II era the Senate maintained its pussycat attitude on presidential appointments. Some sub-Cabinet names were withdrawn without Senate action - just as Theodore C. Sorensen withdrew in January as President Carter's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency - when it became clear they could not win approval.
A few were rejected on the floor - Carl A. Ilgenfritz as chairman of the old Munitions Board in 1949 because he wouldn't give up his big salary as a steel executive, Leland Olds as a third-term Federal Power Commissioner in 1949 because he was perceived as antiprivate power, and four others simply because senators exercised their right to declare a nominee "personally obnoxious."
In 1968 the Senate rejected President Lyndon Johnson's nomination of Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice, and in 1969 and 1970 it disapproved Richard Nixon's nominations of Clement Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell as high court justices.
The Fortas nomination was acutally withdraw after a vote to cut off a filibuster. Fortas, accused of "cronyism" with LBJ, was rejected because while on the court he had accepted an outside fee from the family foundation of a convicted stock manipulator.
Haynsworth was rejected after questions arose about his participation in court cases where his financial interests could have been involved, and Carswell was accused of having made a racist speech 22 years earlier and of having insufficient legal intellect.
Even before Richard Nixon was re-elected the Senate began to take a closer look at his nominees. An explosive melodrama was played out in 1972, when, after two sets of hearings, Richard G. Kleindienst was finally approved as Attorney General. He later was convicted of lying in testimony about the Justice Department's role in an out-of-court settlement of antitrust cases against International Telephone and Telegraph Corp.
After Nixon's re-election, the nomination of L. Patrick Gray II as FBI director was withdrawn. For the first time since 1950 (when Martin Hutchinson was rejected as Federal Trade Commissioner), the Senate in 1973 struck down a nomination to a major regulatory agency, recommitting the nomination of Robert H. Morris as a Federal Power Commissioner after opponents said he was too close to the oil industry.
President Ford fared no better. In the space of two weeks in 1975 the Commerce Committee tabled his nomination of Joseph Coors as a board member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Banking Committee turned down Ben B. Blackburn as chiarman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and the Commerce Committee disapproved Isabel A. Burgess for a second term on the National Transportation Safety Board.
Last year the Public Works Committee stopped the appointment of Thomas L. Longshore to the Tennessee Valley Authority after it had twice sat on another Ford nomination - that of James F. Hooper III for the TVA. Inaction by several committees killed at least six other nominations, and the Judiciary Committee tabled Fod's nomination of William B. Roff to a federal judgeship as a "senatorial courtesy" to Virginia William L. Scott.
Only the Commerce and Banking committees have a strong, although recent, history of independent apraisal of presidential appointees, according to several sources.
To ensure closer scrutiny by all confirming committees, Sens. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.), Charles, H. Percy (R-III) and Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) introduced a resolution Thursday to create a new Senate office to investigate the background of major nominees.
A nomination would be referred to the new office at the same time it is referred to the appropriate confirmating committee. The office would have 15 days to make its report, considering FBI and Comptroller of the Currency investigations, but would make no recommendations regarding confirmation.
A backer of the proposal says it would force the Senate to face its responsibility on nominations. "The public has a right to hold us accountable as its does the President," he said.