Who's in Bush's Cabinet?

A look at the loyal GOP soldiers and palatable Dems likely to be invited into a Bush-Cheney White House.

By Alicia Montgomery
December 6, 2000 2:00PM (UTC)
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As Gov. George W. Bush moves cautiously from candidate to president-elect, he's paying more attention to those who will be joining his Cabinet. Bush had a lot of help getting to the White House, and all those loving friends are already lining up to get tokens of his affection.

The major tension in Bush's transition will be splitting the spoils between ideological moderates who helped shape his compassionate conservative image, and the socially conservative foot soldiers who helped him hold off Sen. John McCain in the Republican primaries and smiled through their doubts during an ideologically neutral convention and general election campaign. And Bush still has to make way for Daddy, or at least two-thirds of his former administration.


Here's a list of some of the names you're likely to hear talked up -- and, in some cases, talked down -- in the days before a possible Bush inauguration.

Secretary of State
Gen. Colin Powell
In brief: Powell was a black Republican star long before Bush dug up all those people to speak at the convention. With three decades of military service already under his belt, Powell was picked by Bush p ère to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989. His stock rose from role model to political deity when he directed Gulf War strategy in 1991. He left that post in 1993 after serving under President Clinton for several months. Since then, he's had to beat back Republican kingmakers with a stick, dodging draft calls to run for president in 1996 and 2000, and giving the cold shoulder to veep inquiries from Bush fils this spring. He's also been buffing his halo as head of America's Promise, a nonprofit devoted to encouraging volunteerism, since 1997.

Pros: He is the very model of a modern elder statesman with more than enough experience for the job, and an international reputation for being both a strong leader and a team player. His race could be a plus in American relations with countries in the developing world.


Cons: No matter how much he's valued as a diversity poster boy for the GOP, his social policy views on abortion and affirmative action rub a lot of conservative Republicans the wrong way. A military background could give some in the international community pause.

Nomination chances: The Powell pick is the closest thing in politics to a guarantee. Powell has had this post on his wish list forever, and no Republican would be brave (stupid?) enough to challenge him for the spot.

Confirmation chances: He's a shoo-in. The right will swallow this one with a great big smile in the interest of public relations. Even the most partisan Democrats will be governed by the Clarence Thomas rule -- that no African-American man can be publicly criticized unless he's implicated in a felony investigation. They'll likely set aside Powell's opposition to gays in the military.


National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice
In brief: Another holdover from the first Bush administration, Rice signed on to the Texas governor's campaign early in primary season and has been his primary foreign policy tutor. Beginning in 1989, Rice held the post of National Security Council director of Soviet and East European affairs, and went on to serve as provost of Stanford University. She turned in a highly regarded performance during the GOP Convention's parade of black Republicans. Rice is a Bush loyalist from way back, and would be another visible, high-level black Republican whose qualifications are above question. She also comes without any of the ideological baggage that Powell carries.

Pros: Rice is renowned for the breadth of her knowledge and the energy she brings to her work. She has earned praise for her professional style, combining charm and intelligence to create consensus with a minimum of partisanship and strife.


Cons: She has blasted Clinton's China policy repeatedly. That's not a problem in and of itself, but could boomerang if critics discover that Bush isn't offering anything new in that area. Clinton ran into a public relations problem when he slammed the Bush administration for cooperating with China, and then did the same thing when he got into office.

Nomination and confirmation chances: Not applicable -- it's an appointed White House staff position, not a Cabinet position.

Secretary of Defense


Paul D. Wolfowitz
In brief: He's a veteran of the Defense Department, serving in various Pentagon posts from 1977 to 1982, and went on to become the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989. After leaving that post, Wolfowitz worked as undersecretary of defense for policy from 1989 to 1993, reporting to then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Since leaving government, Wolfowitz has been in academia, becoming dean of Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 1994. During the campaign, he helped bring Bush up to speed on defense issues, and helped prep Cheney for his vice-presidential debate.

Pros: Wolfowitz is thoroughly qualified for the job and has served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, increasing Bush's reputation for bipartisanship. His experience with Indonesia could prove quite valuable now that the country has become unstable.

Cons: He's another one of "Daddy's boys," and could be more comfortable reporting to Cheney than to Bush. In addition, academic resumes can contain ideological ammunition for a nominee's enemies, as in the case of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, whose free-wheeling writings on privacy and other issues made him a target.


Nomination chances: Good. He's rather unobjectionable.

Confirmation chances: Good. He's rather unobjectionable.

Sam Nunn
In brief: During the Georgia Democrat's career in the Senate, which stretched from 1972 to 1996, Nunn earned a reputation as a military hawk. He served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and now sits on the board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. One of the more conservative members of his party, Nunn was a supporter of Reaganomics and the nomination of William Rehnquist to the post of chief justice of the Supreme Court. Briefly in 1988, Nunn enjoyed the dubious honor of being the media establishment's man to beat for the plum job of running mate to then-presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. Nunn is now a senior partner in the Atlanta law firm of King & Spalding. He also serves as co-chair of the Concord Coalition, a group that promotes fiscal policy focused on reducing the deficit without fatally wounding social programs.

Pros: Perhaps the only nominee that everyone would comfortably label as a token, Nunn could fulfill Bush's promise of bipartisanship, and maintain the cross-party status of the defense post, currently held by Republican William Cohen.


Cons: Nunn voted against the Gulf War, the shining moment of the former Bush administration, and that would likely not recommend him to the Texas governor or his inner circle. He's also got plenty of problems within his own party. His maiden run for the Senate was endorsed by then-avowed segregationist George Wallace. Nunn's a notorious homophobe as well, and dismissed two staff members in the early 80's when he discovered that they were gay.

Nomination chances: Not great. Sure, Bush hinted that he'd have Democrats in his cabinet. Then again he once hinted that his running mate would be a bright, new surprising face. Besides, Nunn has said that he's not interested in the post.

Confirmation chances: Not great. The Gulf War vote is poison with Republicans, and Democrat-leaning interest groups will probably not be in any mood to play dead.

Housing and Urban Development
Rick Lazio
In brief: He quit his day job as a Long Island congressman to take on the first lady in the race for the New York Senate seat. He lost. In addition to his moderate record on abortion rights and the environment, Lazio's enthusiasm for housing policy was supposed to be one of his selling points as a mainstream candidate. He served as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity Committee on Banking and Financial Services and pushed an agenda there that fits well with Bush's "compassionate conservative" doctrine. He denouned run-down public housing as "warehouses for the poor" with blocks of "broken doors, broken windows, broken dreams." Lazio sponsored the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 which gave the working poor priority on waiting list and coerced tenants to participate in volunteer programs.


Pros: As a social moderate, Lazio would provide Bush with an opportunity to assert that he's not in the pocket of his party's right wing. By appointing someone with a track record in the field, the Texas governor could also use Lazio to prove that he takes the issue seriously, as a compassionate conservative should. Furthermore, a Lazio nod could give dispirited Republicans in New York a lift, since many blame Bush's inattention to the state for the size of Lazio's loss.

Cons: For whatever reason, Lazio blew the big one, and Bush might not want to spend his goodwill with social conservatives to help out a loser.

Nomination chances: Not great. Lazio lost decisively to Hillary Rodham Clinton, chewing up millions of Clinton-hater dollars in the process. Nominating him would be a transparent ploy to "reward" his performance in that race, and many in the GOP may wonder if Lazio deserves it.

Confirmation chances: Pretty good, if he ever gets there. His Republican colleagues would no doubt relish an opportunity to stick it to freshman Sen. Clinton by confirming him.


Department of the Interior
Marc Racicot
In brief: The term-limited governor of Montana earned his stripes as a Bush loyalist in recent weeks. Racicot served as frontman for Bush attacks on Democrats who worked to disqualify overseas ballots during the Florida recount fight. Throughout the campaign, Racicot was an important advisor to Bush on environmental issues, helping to highlight differences between the Clinton administration and citizens in western states who find current environmental policy too intrusive. Racicot has supported shooting bison in Yellowstone Park to thin overgrown herds, and advocates increasing logging as a method for reducing the risk of forest fires.

Pros: Before the recount battle, Racicot had a reputation as a moderate. His pro-property rights views could help seal Republican gains in the west.

Cons: He's become a symbol of the aggressive GOP tactics in the Florida recount fight, including calling into question Gore's patriotism and loyalty to the armed forces. His record could mobilize environmental activists to mobilize against him.

Nomination chances: Good. He's done his duty to Bush, and the Republicans will want to reward him for a job well done.

Confirmation chances: Just OK. Though he's qualified for the post, Democrats in the Senate could be looking for a whipping boy if bad P.R. plays a large part in ending Gore's hopes.

Department of the Treasury
Lawrence Lindsey
In brief: An economic scholar working with the American Enterprise Institute, Lindsey has been chief of the Bush fiscal policy team throughout the campaign. Like many on Bush's short list, Lindsey worked for former President Bush, who appointed him to the Federal Reserve Board in 1991. He served there until 1997. Before that, Lindsey worked under Reagan as a senior staff economist for tax policy on the President's Council of Economic Advisers, from 1981 to 1984. Despite his conservative credentials, Lindsey also has some compassionate policy experience to balance out his resume, having served as Chairman of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation from 1993 to 1997. Lindsey's pet policy initiative is across-the-board tax cuts, and Bush's strength among tax-conscious voters will likely be credited to him.

Pros: Lindsey is a strong advocate of broad tax reductions that are beloved by a broad range of Republicans, and his work with Reagan will only add to enthusiasm from his party.

Cons: He's also advocated the nickel-and-dime tax breaks for child-related expenses that could remind some of Gore's fiscal priorities.

Nomination chances: Good. There's not much noise about the Treasury post going to anyone else.

Confirmation chances: Good. There will be public hand-wringing and complaints from the Democrats, but there isn't enough ammunition to sink a nomination.

Attorney General

Frank Keating
In brief: The Oklahoma governor is a longtime Bush ally, and basically lost out on the vice presidency for being too politically bland and too ideologically similar. He worked in the FBI before going home to Oklahoma and getting elected to the state legislature. He served in a variety of positions for the Reagan and Bush White Houses, including assistant secretary of the treasury, associate attorney general and general counsel, and acting deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Keating gained a national profile during the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing carried out by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.

Pros: Keating is the best face of the Bush philosophy. He has conservative ideas with a moderate demeanor. He has solid law enforcement credentials and a family-values background that could help quiet some grumbling from the more conservative side of the Republican coalition.

Cons: He's not exciting to watch or listen to, and that could be a drawback for a president who's hoping to develop and take his tough-on-crime reputation to the national stage.

Nomination chances: OK. On the bright side, he is one of the few Republican governors up for a Cabinet slot whose state didn't go to Gore. There wasn't much chance that Bush would lose it in the first place, but he's a good soldier who played his part and deserves a reward. However, Keating admitted in a Tuesday interview that he hadn't spoken to Bush in weeks.

Confirmation chances: Very good. His solid conservative credentials won't earn him many enemies because he's just too darn nice.

Various spots

Republican governors
In brief: Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge, New Jersey's Christine Todd Whitman, Michigan's John Engler and Wisconsin's Tommy Thompson are all governors who help bolster the Bush's image as a results-oriented moderate. Whitman supports Bush, though they differ on abortion and gay rights; Engler worked aggressively for Bush even in the heat of the primaries, and Thompson lent his credibility as a successful welfare reformer to Bush's "compassionate conservative" views.

Pros: They each took a stand for Bush in their Democratic states. Whitman particularly could be the next best thing to a Democrat for a Bush-style big ideological tent. Ridge, a Vietnam vet who has been mentioned as a possible defense secretary, could lessen the double draft-dodger slam against a Bush-Cheney White House.

Cons: All their states went into Gore's column. In Engler's case, not even his best efforts in the primaries could keep down Sen. John McCain, whose hopes for the nomination were briefly resurrected by a victory in Michigan. Conservatives don't like Ridge's pro-choice beliefs. Whitman has been blacklisted by both ideological camps. The right doesn't like her abortion rights and gay rights positions; the left believes she is tainted by racial profiling allegations in her state.

Nomination chances: Bad. Thompson could make it, but Engler is a two-time loser. Whitman would be troublesome, and Ridge has already said he doesn't want a Bush administration job.

Confirmation chances: OK. Whitman and Ridge would get serious grief from members of their own party, and Engler has made union enemies in his state who might follow him through confirmation.

Democratic turncoats
In brief: Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, Democratic congressmen Ralph Hall and Charlie Stenholm of Texas, Cal Dooley and Gary Condit of California, Allen Boyd of Florida, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Ken Lucas of Kentucky have all been mentioned as possible picks for Bush cabinet slots. These are "New Democrats" or "Blue Dog Democrats" who are not afraid to part company with their party on votes on everything from gun rights to impeachment. As a rule, they like the way Clinton pulled the Democratic Party from the left to the center in the early 90s, but didn't appreciate being associated with his moral lapses.

Pros: Placing members of this group in minor level Cabinet positions would be a double or even triple coup for Bush. He would get acclaim for reaching across the partisan aisle, he'd subtract a few Democrats from a sharply divided Congress in districts that could easily go Republican and he'd cripple an important sector of the Democratic coalition.

Cons: A conservative Democrat is still a liberal to the GOP right wing. Congressional Democrats won't be blind to Bush's desire to shrink their numbers, and won't likely reward him for his bipartisan spirit.

Nomination chances: Not good. Republican conservatives want as many Cabinet positions as possible, and won't appreciate being put in line behind members of the opposing party. Also, any of these Democrats could get cold feet. Given the division of the country and the government evidenced by the presidential race and the now 50-50 Congress, a spot in a Bush administration may be a short, bumpy ride to nowhere, and Democrats may not be willing to take a turncoat back into the fold in four years.

Confirmation chances: Okay. Congress doesn't like rejecting its own, but each party's grass-roots base wouldn't make it pleasant.

Note: A correction has been made to this story.

Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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Dick Cheney George W. Bush Tom Ridge White House