Bush puts final touches on Cabinet

Democrat, 2 others add to ethnic mix, level of experience

Deep conservative streak

All expected to win confirmation despite scattered opposition

January 03, 2001|By Paul West and Ellen Gamerman | Paul West and Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Completing a Cabinet long on diversity and Washington experience, President-elect George W. Bush announced his final three picks yesterday: Clinton Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta to head the Transportation Department, Sen. Spencer Abraham as energy secretary and former Reagan aide Linda Chavez at the Labor Department.

Bush's will arguably be the most ethnically diverse Cabinet in history. His nominees include seven white men, two black men and four women; there are two Hispanics, one Asian-American and one Arab-American. In Mineta, he found a Democrat as well.

At the same time, a deep conservative streak runs through the Bush Cabinet, particularly on the domestic-policy side, which includes a quartet of former Reagan administration officials. All are expected to win Senate confirmation, despite opposition to several nominees from women's groups, environmentalists, civil rights organizations and labor unions.

Bush, clearly pleased to have swiftly completed his initial round of top-level appointments, called his Cabinet "one of the strongest that any president has been ever able to assemble."

He said the selections demonstrate his desire to "seek the best" and reflect a self-confident governing style.

"It says I'm not afraid to surround myself with strong and competent people," Bush said in introducing his latest nominees in Austin, Texas. "I fully expect to be given straightforward talk [and] honest opinion."

During the campaign, Bush made no secret of his intention to set broad goals for his administration and to leave much of the day-to-day responsibility for running the government to others, including members of his Cabinet and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.

"I'm proud of this Cabinet and hope the American people realize that a good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate," said Bush, 54, who has assembled one of the oldest Cabinets in years.

He has also stocked it with veterans of the past three Republican administrations. Even the two Cabinet secretaries younger than 50 - Interior Secretary-designate Gale Norton, 47, and Abraham, 48, have Washington experience.

The trio of choices announced yesterday added to the Bush Cabinet's ethnic mix, which rivals the Clinton Cabinet of 1993, which Clinton famously designed to "look like America."

Mineta, a Japanese-American who was interred during World War II with his family, became the first Asian-American ever to hold a Cabinet position when Clinton chose him six months ago as commerce secretary.

He will now become the lone Democrat in the Bush Cabinet. He represented California's Silicon Valley in Congress for 21 years and campaigned actively for Vice President Al Gore. At one point last fall, Mineta accused Bush of not being "forthright" after the disclosure that he had a drunken-driving conviction in Maine in the 1970s.

By selecting Mineta, Bush fulfilled a pledge to forge a bipartisan group of advisers. But he couched his choice in terms of an intention to pick talented people "regardless of political party" rather than as part of an outreach to Gore supporters.

And Bush said he still intends to take his campaign agenda to the evenly divided Congress this year, over the advice of those who say he should reshape his initiatives to reflect the closeness of the election.

"I believe the reason I'm standing here is because of the agenda I articulated during the course of the campaign," he said.

Bush dismissed the importance of Gore's popular-vote victory, maintaining that he would have "campaigned differently" if gaining the most votes had been his goal, rather than winning the most electoral votes. For example, Bush said, he might have spent more time and money pumping up voter turnout in his home state of Texas.

Mineta, in brief remarks, called himself a proud Democrat and said he had been happy to promote Gore's candidacy. He said he agreed with Clinton's and Gore's statements that, with the election over, it is time to find bipartisan solutions that can move the nation forward.

"There are no Democratic highways, no such thing as Republican or Democratic aviation and highway safety," said Mineta, 69, who was offered the job of transportation secretary eight years ago by Clinton. He turned it down to continue serving as chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee.

Mineta irritated some Democrats when he quit the House in 1995 to take a high-paying job with Lockheed Martin Corp. But his nomination is likely to glide through the Senate.

Rougher sledding is likely for Chavez, a prominent conservative activist, who is Bush's choice to head the Labor Department. The president-elect described her as a one-time union member and recalled her experience in the Reagan administration, where she served as a White House aide and as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

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