President finishes naming Cabinet In bid for diversity, Clinton taps Cuomo, Slater, Herman, Pena

December 21, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Staff writers Frank Langfitt and Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton completed his Cabinet shuffle yesterday and preserved its ethnic diversity by promoting administration insiders to jobs heading the departments of Housing, Labor, Energy and Transportation.

The one surprise was the shift of the current transportation secretary, Federico F. Pena, to be the new energy secretary, a last-minute choice apparently intended to reward Hispanics, a key constituency in Clinton's re-election.

Other choices include:

Andrew Cuomo, 39, son of former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, would move up from his job as assistant housing secretary to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Alexis Herman, a 49-year-old White House aide, survived a backstage battle to become Clinton's choice to head the Labor Department.

Rodney Slater, 41, the federal highway administrator and a longtime Clinton ally from Arkansas, is the choice to head the Transportation Department.

"Excellence and diversity" were his goals in picking his new Cabinet, Clinton told a news conference in the old Executive Office Building.

He denied that he had caved in to pressure from Democratic interest groups and supporters to place women and minorities in his Cabinet.

"The pressure was pressure I put on myself," said Clinton, who made the announcement surrounded by 20 present and future Cabinet members.

"I believe that one of my jobs at this moment in history is to demonstrate by the team I put together that no group of people should be excluded from service to our country, and that all people are capable of serving.

"I would not have appointed a single one of them because of their gender or their racial or ethnic background had I not thought that they could succeed."

Not only are the faces of the new appointees familiar ones to Clinton; so is the demographic mix of his Cabinet, which, he once vowed, would "look like America."

If all of the appointees are confirmed by the Senate, the second-term Cabinet would have three blacks heading departments (down one from the Cabinet he named in 1992), one Hispanic (one fewer than in 1992) and four women (one more than at the start of his presidency).

In addition to the Cabinet secretaries named yesterday, the president made several other key appointments:

Janet Yellen, an economist and member of the Federal Reserve Board, to chair the president's Council of Economic Advisers. Yellen, 50, was on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley when Clinton named her to the Fed two years ago.

Bruce Reed, a 36-year-old White House aide, as chief domestic policy adviser. Reed, a Rhodes scholar, has ties to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which Clinton once headed but which was largely shut out of the more liberal policy-making in the first half of the Clinton presidency.

Aida Alvarez, 47, a HUD official, to head the Small Business Administration. A longtime political supporter of Vice President Al Gore, Alvarez would be the first native of Puerto Rico to hold a Cabinet-rank position.

Mack McLarty, 50, a presidential counselor, was named special envoy to Latin America and was given a seat on Clinton's National Economic Council.

With Congress in recess and most members out of town for the Christmas holidays, Republican reaction was slow in materializing.

Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, issued a statement that was cautiously positive on the nominations of Herman and Slater.

He was silent on Cuomo and Pena, and other Republican senators issued statements at least mildly critical of them.

A few high-level vacancies remain, including the job of White House counsel and the heads of the Food and Drug Administration and the Social Security Administration.

Alicia Munnell, a member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, has emerged as the front-runner to head the Social Security Administration, according to an administration official who demanded anonymity.

Also reportedly under consideration for the job is Stanford G. Ross, who headed Social Security during the Carter years. A White House official said yesterday that a replacement for the outgoing commissioner, Shirley S. Chater, is not expected to be named until the new year.

Most of the names announced yesterday had been circulated in the press in the days and weeks leading up to the announcement.

The shift of Pena from Transportation to Energy had not, however. The decision was apparently made late Thursday night, after Clinton had decided on the rest of his choices without having put a Hispanic at the head of any Cabinet department.

"I think perhaps the first thing I will be doing is taking down the 'For Sale' sign that is in front of our home," Pena quipped.

The 49-year-old former mayor of Denver, who compiled an undistinguished record as transportation secretary, had been planning to return to Colorado.

Despite the Pena appointment, Clinton's failure to put more Hispanics in his Cabinet prompted complaints from the National Council of La Raza, whose president, Raul Yzaguirre, expressed outrage.

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