President-elect George W. Bush has completed his Cabinet nominations. He has assembled a diverse group that has ample experience in Washington and in dealing with the bureaucracy. They are competent, capable and conservative. Taken as a whole, however, the group raises questions about Mr. Bush’s claim to want to bring a new spirit to Washington, as well as about the promise in his victory speech to reach out to all Americans, including those who did not vote for him.
With little fanfare, Mr. Bush has created a rainbow Cabinet. Remarkably for a Republican administration, it has a minority of white men (six). There are two black men, three white women, one Asian-American man, one Arab-American man and a Hispanic man and woman. There are governors, former legislators, corporate heads and veterans of previous administrations. Fulfilling Mr. Bush’s pledge to be bipartisan, there is a Democrat — Mr. Norman Mineta, the former California congressman who currently serves as secretary of commerce and is the first person to go from one administration directly into the next, despite the change in parties.
The group is rich in experience in Washington. Secretary of defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld held that position in the administration of President Gerald Ford in the 1970s. Vice President-elect Dick Cheney was chief of staff in the same administration and headed the Pentagon during the Persian Gulf War. Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Mineta, the nominee for transportation secretary, is currently commerce secretary and focused on transport issues during his term in Congress. Ms. Linda Chavez, labor secretary-designate, Ms. Gale Norton, interior secretary-designate, Ms. Ann Veneman, agriculture secretary-designate, and Mr. Paul O’Neill, the treasury secretary-designate, have all had stints in the executive branch.
The nominations now go to the Senate for confirmation, which is a virtual certainty, although a couple of hearings will be contentious. Former Sen. John Ashcroft, the nominee for attorney general, is being targeted by civil-rights groups for his opposition to abortion rights and to the nomination of a black judge to the federal bench. Former Sen. Spencer Abraham, nominated to head the energy department, and Ms. Chavez, the labor nominee, will also draw fire for statements that put them in opposition to the very departments they now intend to lead. All have said that they will enforce the law and protect their departments’ interests.
The Cabinet choices reveal a good deal about Mr. Bush. For one thing, they show that the president is confident. He is not worried about being upstaged by his team. All of the nominees are smart and capable administrators. They know the bureaucracy and should be able to ensure that they — and by extension, the president — run the show.
And even if many of the faces are familiar, Mr. Bush has put his stamp on the Cabinet. The nomination of Mr. Rumsfeld is especially revealing. The original leading candidate for the Pentagon slot was former Sen. Dan Coats, but he apparently did not get the post when he and Mr. Bush did not “click.” In addition, the president, drawing on his own experience in Washington, has made it clear that he expects loyalty to come first.
The familiar faces in the Cabinet raise two questions. Can Mr. Bush fulfill his campaign promise to bring a new spirit to Washington with these veterans? Experience is critical, but the president’s reliance on his advisers and his seeming willingness to delegate will make it harder to change the prevailing culture in the nation’s capital, as Mr. Bush pledged. Foreign governments see reassuring faces among the president’s national security team, but some observers are asking whether the team that won the Gulf War is ready for the new security challenges of the post-Cold War world.
The second question concerns ideology. Mr Bush pledged to pursue bipartisanship and to bridge the electoral divide, but his Cabinet has a very partisan cast, Mr. Mineta’s presence notwithstanding. Indeed, it is hard to see how this Cabinet differs from one the president-elect would have selected had he won by a comfortable majority on Election Day. Moreover, Mr. Bush has said that he intends to present his full campaign agenda to Congress — insisting that his vision for the country is the one that voters endorsed.
Unfortunately, that endorsement is less than overwhelming. As a candidate, Mr. Bush spoke of the need for a new tone in Washington. In his victory speech, the president-elect acknowledged that he faced obstacles his predecessors had not known and that extraordinary measures would be in order. His Cabinet, though capable, seems ordinary enough.
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