Bush Proves a Deft Cabinet-Maker — So Far, Anyway

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Bush's pick of John Ashcroft for Attorney General should mollify conservatives

He has been fast and, so far, deft: Three women. Two blacks. One Hispanic. Five white guys. George W. Bush is about half done with his Cabinet and if you look past the names, the range and the diversity, the gist so far is pragmatic and pro-business — with plenty of hands-on Washington experience.

Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Andy Card and Ann Veneman, the new Agriculture Secretary designate, all worked for Bush's father. Paul O'Neill, the Treasury designate, spent ten years as a budget whiz in Washington before working for International Paper and Alcoa. Mitch Daniels, the new budget czar, worked for Dick Lugar before going to Eli Lilly.

There's Method to his Moderation

Bush's choices have been strategic. He has tapped people from the two most politically-important states: Florida (Housing designate Mel Martinez) and California (Veneman). He has also stretched his arms to embrace the two flanks of his party, represented on the GOP's left by Christine Whitman (who is heading for the the EPA) and on the right by John Ashcroft, who Bush named last week to be his attorney general. Bush had been thinking about Ashcroft for nearly a month, but a senior Bush official told TIME.com on Saturday that the more moderate the Cabinet became last week, the more sense it made to mollify conservatives in one fell swoop. Democrats will concentrate their fire on the Missouri Republican, whose almost-pure brand of conservatism guarantees a sea change at the Department of Justice. But barring a surprise, even Democrats expect Ashcroft will be confirmed.

Get Me a Democrat

Bush is still working on a Secretary of Defense: Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge was ruled out as too moderate; former Indiana Senator Dan Coats didn't wow Bush in a meeting last week; Reagan-era Pentagon aide Paul Wolfowitz is regarded more as policy expert than top-down manager. The Pentagon has proved to be tough to fill as well because it stands to reason that Bush will look first to vice- president Dick Cheney and Powell for advice on military matters.

Bush has all-but-promised to tip his hat to bipartisanship; and thus must find at least one Democrat before he fills the rest — Transportation, Labor, Education, Interior, Veterans and Energy, UN Representative and the Office of the US Trade Representative. But hardly anyone expects him to find more than one.