Diversity in the Cabinet Clinton picks: Test will be whether RTC he can govern as an efficient centrist.

December 21, 1996

WITH HIS SECOND-TERM Cabinet and White House staff complete, President Clinton faces the task of proving he can govern effectively from the centrist position that launched him to victory in November.

His choices for top domestic posts in labor, energy, transportation and housing reflect the search for "diversity" that characterized his line-up four years ago. But while he tries to please his important African-American, Hispanic and female constituencies -- groups crucial to his re-election -- liberal activists are likely to be unappeased.

One reason is the power of Erskine Bowles, the North Carolina businessman who is taking over as White House chief of staff. While the first-term crew consisted of campaign veterans imbued with political rhetoric, the Bowles team looks business-like and moderate. As for Cabinet members, they presumably will follow orders. If there is liberal resistance, it will come from advocacy groups outside government and from ranking members of Congress.

Most surprising of the president's last-minute picks was the transfer of Federico Pena from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Energy. Considering his unimpressive achievements in the former post, the only plausible explanation is that Mr. Clinton just had to have a Hispanic in the Cabinet. He had two last time. Because of ham-handed Republican attacks on immigrants, Latinos in large numbers have flipped to the Democrats.

But if Hispanics got Energy, they lost the Department of Labor. Pressure from black leaders like Jesse Jackson, who recognize the social significance of the Labor post, led to the selection of an African-American woman, White House aide Alexis Herman. Despite the clout of the AFL-CIO, unions failed to get this post for former Sen. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania.

Other selections: Federal Highway Administration chief Rodney Slater, an African-American friend of the president, to Transportation, and Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, to the Housing and Urban Development post. He has been a HUD assistant secretary noted for his aggressive championship of the disadvantaged.

Although there are important holdover loyalists -- Donna Shalala (Health and Human Services), Robert Riley (Education), Bruce Babbitt (Interior) and Jesse Brown (Veterans Affairs) -- the president picked enough new faces to give his administration a different look. Now he must avoid the second-term let-down experienced by so many of his predecessors.

Pub Date: 12/21/96

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