Clinton names woman to lead Justice Dept. President-elect completes Cabinet appointments

December 25, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Mindful of his pledge to build a Cabine that reflects America, President-elect Bill Clinton named the first female attorney general yesterday and filled in the remaining top rungs of his administration with a diverse group of political allies.

Just under the wire of his self-imposed Christmas deadline, Mr. Clinton appointed Connecticut attorney Zoe Baird, vice president and general counsel for the Aetna Life & Casualty Co. and a former Carter administration aide, to head the Justice Department.

In yesterday's finale to the Cabinet appointments, he also named Mississippi Rep. Mike Espy, the first black congressman elected from his state since Reconstruction, to head the Agriculture Department; former Denver Mayor Federico F. Pena to head the Transportation Department; and former Arizona governor and 1988 presidential candidate Bruce E. Babbitt as interior secretary.

In other key appointments, Mr. Clinton named his campaign chairman and longtime friend Mickey Kantor, a Los Angeles lawyer, as U.S. trade representative; Dr. M. Jocelyn Elders, outspoken director of the Arkansas Health Department, as U.S. surgeon general; and nuclear physicist John H. Gibbons to direct the White House Office of Science and Technology.

The final round of appointments came after days of last-minute scrambling in which Mr. Clinton tried to juggle his own leanings and obligations with the demands of special interest groups -- most notably women's and Hispanic groups -- who pressed for more representation and vigilantly reminded the president-elect of his pledge to build a cabinet that "looked like America."

The final lineup, which includes four blacks, two Hispanics and three women -- along with two women in positions Mr. Clinton intends to elevate to Cabinet status -- constitutes the most diverse Cabinet in history.

Mr. Clinton said his nominees "come from all across America. . . . We will be better and stronger for that diversity. I can say with pride I believe this Cabinet and these other appointees represent the best in America."

The most surprising of yesterday's appointments was Ms. Baird, 40, an informal adviser to the Clinton campaign who had originally been under consideration for White House counsel.

Mr. Clinton described his attorney general-designate as a tough and dynamic lawyer.

"She pulls no punches and I have discovered in this process that those who have been in combat with her leave the encounter respecting her even more," he said.

Mr. Babbitt, 54, a popular two-term governor noted for his devotion to protecting the environment and preserving federal lands -- and also for what Mr. Clinton yesterday called his "gutsy" run for the presidency in 1988 -- had been the early favorite for the interior post.

When it appeared earlier this week that New Mexico Rep. Bill Richardson, touted by Hispanic leaders, was headed for the job, environmental groups protested and met Wednesday with transition chairman Vernon Jordan to press for the appointment of Mr. Babbitt, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Similarly, Mr. Espy, 39, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, was an early front-runner whose nomination survived the weeks of mixing and matching, despite his overt lobbying for the top agriculture job.

"I can think of at least 10 reasons why Mike Espy should be secretary of agriculture," Mr. Clinton joked yesterday, alluding to a hand-scribbled note the congressman slipped to him recently, outlining 10 reasons he should be named to the post.

A major Clinton supporter during the campaign, and one of the relatively few black members of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council that Mr. Clinton chaired, Mr. Espy worked closely with the Arkansas governor on rural development issues after being elected to Congress in 1986.

Perhaps more important, Mr. Espy, a lawyer by training, was one of several black politicians who defended Mr. Clinton during the campaign when he came under fire from the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and others for his criticism of a black rap singer.

Mr. Pena, 45, is the second Hispanic named to the Clinton Cabinet. Head of the Clinton transition effort on transportation, the two-term Denver mayor was a late entry, edging out Chicago banker William Daley, brother of Chicago mayor and Clinton ally Richard M. Daley, who had been considered the favorite for the post until late this week.

As mayor, Mr. Pena promoted the construction of the new international airport in Denver, and yesterday he said that as transportation secretary he plans to work on Mr. Clinton's strategy of investing in infrastructure.

In naming Mr. Kantor trade representative, Mr. Clinton has rewarded a longtime confidant who was chairman of his campaign but who was passed over for the top transition slot earlier this year when other key campaign officials found his management style abrasive.

Many political observers praised Mr. Clinton for his lineup yesterday, saying he had fulfilled his promise of diversity.

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