Half of Bush's Cabinet is confirmed by Senate

Seven nominees OK'd by unanimous voice vote during 12-minute session

1 unsuccessful objection raised

January 21, 2001|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As a welcoming gift to the Bush administration, the Senate confirmed yesterday half the new president's Cabinet, giving speedy approval to Colin L. Powell as secretary of state and six other nominees.

Except for one unsuccessful objection raised to the confirmation of Spencer Abraham to lead the Energy Department, all seven nominees were approved unanimously by voice vote just three hours after George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president.

Along with Powell, 63, who served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, three other seasoned government veterans were confirmed: Donald H. Rumsfeld, 68, whose service dates to the Nixon administration and includes a prior stint as defense secretary, to lead the Pentagon once again; Paul H. O'Neill, 65, the recently retired chairman of Alcoa Inc., who worked for a decade at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, as treasury secretary; and Ann M. Veneman, 51, returning to lead the Agriculture Department after working there as deputy secretary for Reagan and the elder Bush.

Also, confirmed yesterday were Rod Paige, 67, the superintendent of schools in Houston, to be education secretary, and Donald L. Evans, 54, a Texas oilman and close friend of the new president, to head the Commerce Department.

Return to power

Yesterday's 12-minute Senate session also marked a return to power for the Republicans, who regained control in the evenly split 50-50 body because Dick Cheney, the newly installed Republican vice president, will preside over the Senate and can break any tie votes.

Senate Democrats, who controlled the body for the 2 1/2 weeks since the new Senate was seated, moved swiftly through the confirmation process to allow yesterday's votes to take place as soon as the new administration took office.

Votes on the remaining Cabinet members are expected to take place this week, though at least two have provoked sharp debate. Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft, a staunchly conservative former senator from Missouri, and Gale A. Norton, a former attorney general of Colorado who is Bush's choice to be interior secretary, both face substantial opposition from liberal interest groups.

`Troubling record'

The lonely voice of opposition to Abraham as energy secretary was raised yesterday by Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, who complained that his former colleague had a "troubling record of support" for sending "deadly nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain," a highly disputed site in Nevada.

Environmental groups have also expressed reservations about Abraham but have chosen to concentrate their fire on Norton, who has generally championed personal property rights over federal environmental protections.

By the end of the month, however, all 14 nominees for Bush's cabinet are expected to be approved.

Only one Bush choice so far has failed: Linda Chavez, who withdrew from consideration as labor secretary after it was revealed that she had provided shelter to an illegal alien and had failed to disclose the matter to Bush.

Hillary Rodham Clinton was not present for the first votes of her term as a senator from New York because she was flying to her Chappaqua, N.Y., home with her husband as his took his leave from Washington as president.

But no roll call was held because other senators were absent as well, and no one insisted that the names be called, said a spokesman for the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, of South Dakota.

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