WASHINGTON (Jul. 12)
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), whom Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis named Tuesday as his vice presidential running mate, is considered to have been largely sympathetic to the concerns of the Jewish community during his 18 years in the Senate, although he has supported arms sales for Arab countries.
The announcement was made by Dukakis in Boston just six days before the Democratic National Convention is to open in Atlanta. With Bentsen and his wife, Beryl Ann, at his side, Dukakis praised the Texas senator for his “deep commitment to civil rights that goes back to the 1940s.”
The selection of Bentsen ends the speculation about the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who only Monday night said he would accept the vice presidential nomination, if offered.
At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Jackson was non-committal, saying only that Dukakis selected Bentsen in accordance with the governor’s campaign strategy, which was his right. But he refused to comment on the selection.
However, he said that “Dukakis will make a good president” and “I no doubt will support the ticket that the convention elects.”
Jackson said he was not told of Bentsen’s selection personally by Dukakis, but learned of it from a reporter Monday night at Washington’s National Airport.
NOT EXPERT IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS
The 67-year-old Bentsen is considered a supporter of the close relationship between the United States and Israel, as well as an advocate for Soviet Jewry. But he has not been in the forefront of these issues.
His leadership role in the Senate has not been in foreign affairs, but in economic matters, especially taxation. He is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Bentsen has a mixed record on foreign aid, occasionally voting against such legislation, although his opposition is seen by sources as being more against aid in general, rather than the amount going to Israel.
He did not co-sponsor the bill in the Senate to create the U.S.-Israel free trade agreement, but voted for the bill when it was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate.
Bentsen co-sponsored the legislation to close the Palestine Liberation Organization offices, supported Senate ratification of the Genocide Convention and is a co-sponsor of the current bill, awaiting Senate action, to implement the convention by making genocide a federal crime.
In 1984, Bentsen was co-sponsor of the Senate resolution to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He also supported the bill to allow persons in the military to wear yarmulkes.
In 1985, Bentsen was one of a group of senators who unsuccessfully urged President Reagan not to visit the military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, where members of the Waffen SS are among those buried.
KEY VOTE ON SAUDI SALE
Perhaps Bentsen’s most controversial vote, as far as the Jewish community is concerned, came in June 1986, when he voted to uphold Reagan’s veto of a joint congressional resolution rejecting a weapons sale to the Saudis.
The Senate failed to override the veto by one vote, and the sale went ahead. Bentsen was the only Democrat to switch his vote.
In 1984, he opposed the sale of Stinger missiles to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and in 1985, he co-sponsored the resolution to deny advanced weapons to Jordan until it begins peace negotiations with Israel.
But in 1987, he was not one of the 68 senators who signed a letter opposing the sale of 1,600 Maverick missiles to the Saudis, which eventually caused Reagan to remove the missile from the arms package.
Most recently, he was not among the 21 senators who signed a letter, initiated this month by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), urging the administration not to submit a proposed $1.9 billion arms sale to Kuwait.
On domestic issues, Bentsen voted for a constitutional amendment that would have permitted prayer in the public schools. He has supported women’s right to choose to have abortions, voting against an amendment that would have forbidden the District of Columbia to use district or federal funds to pay for abortions.
“Lloyd Bensten’s long congressional career indicates considerable understanding and sympathy for many issues of particular interest to the Jewish community — the U.S.-Israel relationship, Soviet Jewry, the genocide treaty,” said David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee.
‘CLOSE WORKING RELATIONSHIP’
“While there may be some concern about some of Sen. Bentsen’s votes with respect to arms sales to Arab countries that remain technically at war with Israel, overall we view him as a friend with whom we have enjoyed a close working relationship.”
David Brody, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, observed that Bentsen has been a strong supporter of Israel and has had good relations with the Jewish community in Texas.
He said the senator stressed in a recent letter to constituents that by supporting Israel, the United States “advances the cause of peace in the Middle East.”
Brody said Bentsen also has emphasized the need to take strong measures against terrorism. And the senator has pushed for an energy policy to lessen dependence on Middle East oil.
In presenting Bentsen, Dukakis noted the parallel to 1960, when the Democratic ticket also contained a presidential candidate from Massachusetts, John Kennedy, and a vice presidential candidate from Texas, Lyndon Johnson.
Not mentioned was another parallel to that election. Bentsen benefits from a Texas law passed that year for Johnson, which will allow him to run for re-election for his Senate seat, as Johnson did in 1960, while running for the vice presidency.
Bentsen was first elected to the Senate in 1970, when he defeated his Republican opponent, George Bush, who will be the GOP presidential candidate this year. Bush has not yet named a running mate.
A native of Texas, Bentsen enlisted in the army as a private during World War II and rose to the rank of major. He graduated from the University of Texas with a law degree.
He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1948 and served there until 1954, when he went into business in Houston.
(JTA Washington correspondent Howard Rosenberg contributed to this report.)