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Republicans promise a long, vigorous Senate debate over John Tower's nomination as defense secretary, even as his chances of confirmation fade under the mounting weight of Democratic opposition. Tower's GOP allies made their fighting intentions clear while the man at the center of the storm said he has no intention of giving up. ``Never surrender or retreat,'' the former Texas senator said, quoting the commander of the Texas forces at the Alamo.

The full Senate arranged to begin debate shortly after noon yesterday, although no vote was expected until next week at the earliest.

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Tower on Wednesday renewed his vow to abstain from drinking if he is confirmed. Asked during a National Press Club appearance if he had broken any previous pledges, the twice-divorced Tower said he had broken his marital vows.

Sen. William Cohen (R) of Maine said there would be a ``vigorous'' debate on the Senate floor, adding that the issue involved is more important than a single nomination.

Referring to the Senate's majority Democrats, Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said, ``we hope the door is not closed on the other side.''

But not a single Democrat has thus far supported Tower.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press survey showed 36 Republicans in favor, 36 Democrats against and the remainder undecided or not answering.

In other action, the Senate Wednesday voted 98-1 in favor of the nomination of Dr. Louis Sullivan as Health and Human Services secretary, saying he will be ``a caring advocate'' for millions of poor Americans. Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina cast the sole no vote.

The Senate also voted 99-0 Wednesday to approve retired Adm. James Watkins as the first career military man to head the Department of Energy. And William Bennett appeared a shoo-in for approval as the nation's drug enforcement chief, although members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took him to task on gun control and minority employment.

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Only Sens. Howard Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio and Paul Simon (D) of Illinois indicated that they might vote against Mr. Bennett.

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