´╗┐

At Last, Dubya Finds his Dem

  • Share
  • Read Later
ERIC GAY/AP

George W. Bush named Norman Mineta, a Democrat, as secretary of transportation

All along, you had to figure George W. Bush wasn't going to lure his Democratic Cabinet member from the working Senate or House, not with the margins of power as slender as they are in 2001. And Democrats from the Ford, Reagan or Bush administrations were few and far between. So Bush tapped the current commerce secretary, Norman Mineta, for transportation secretary — getting diversity, experience and Democratism in one fell swoop — and ensured that Hillary won't be the only Clinton holdover working in Washington this year.

Mineta will work for Bill Clinton for another few weeks before a sure-thing Senate confirmation later this month. He's Japanese-American, he's old friends with Dick Cheney, and he's proud to be Bush's crossover pick. "I am a Democrat with both a small 'd' and a large one," Mineta said Tuesday after Bush announced his selection. "I am proud of my party and its heritage, butůthere is no such thing as Republican or Democratic traffic congestion."

Speedy Bushzalez

And then there were none. After only four weeks as presumptive chief and less than three as president-elect, Bush has now filled out his 14-member Cabinet. (U.N. and trade representatives, and some White House posts, are still to come.) And the high-speed process wound down Tuesday in typical Bush fashion.

In the Republican-without-a-job category, Spencer Abraham, defeated senator from Michigan, for energy secretary. With responsibilities ranging from oil prices to nuclear secrets, it's not a job for the politically ambitious — just ask Bill Richardson. And Abraham will get plenty of flak-catching time as he attempts to deliver on Bush's claims that his administration would have an energy policy where the Clinton administration had none. First up: OPEC rumblings about production cuts.

And in the diversity-and-previous-GOP-administration category, Linda Chavez for secretary of labor. Chavez, who was director of the civil rights commission under President Reagan, has written extensively enough on the subject of civil rights to provide plenty of fodder for Democrats looking to make trouble for her nomination. But for now, her name ends in a "z," and she's the fourth woman on the Bush team.

"I can't think of a better way to start the new year than to round out a Cabinet, one of the strongest that I think any president has ever been able to assemble," Bush said. Well, it's certainly not a crowd of neophytes — though the lack of representation of the Eisenhower administration is said to be angering some nonagenarians — and it certainly looks as much like America as Bill Clinton's did.

A Republican rainbow

With the exception of the white male pro-choicer (think Tom Ridge), Bush has managed to span the expanse of the Republican party, from Christy Whitman and Colin Powell to Tommy Thompson and John Ashcroft. And with Mineta, who is just Democrat enough to please the pundits without confusing the voters, Bush has done a pretty good "uniter, not divider" impression — in record time — considering how few Democrats were actually willing to join the team.

Will it hold up? The new Senate, to be sworn in Wednesday, will be a muscle-flexing ground for the angriest losers of the 2000 election: black groups. Jesse Jackson has already promised to come after "Frisk 'Em" Whitman and Ashcroft, whose civil-rights record conservatives call principled and liberals call horrendous. Whitman, cleverly shelved as an EPA appointee, will be hard to nail. But Ashcroft, a justifiable bogeyman as the nation's top law enforcer, will severely test Senate Democrats' proclivities toward giving a smooth ride to a fellow club member. Will Ashcroft be the Clarence Thomas of this Bush administration, or its John Tower? If it gets ugly enough, we may see Frank Keating return to public service after all.

For now, though, Bush is feeling good, smacking down uppity reporters at the Tuesday press conference and bidding farewell to the Cabinet-making process with an oh-so-W. signoff:

"I wish you all a continued happy new year, and I look forward to seeing you at the next availability."