Bush taps 2 governors for Cabinet

Wisconsin's Thompson is picked to head Health and Human Services; New Jersey's Whitman will run the EPA.

By Salon Staff
December 21, 2000 7:23PM (UTC)
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Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman were named to positions in President-elect George W. Bush's Cabinet Thursday.

Thompson, who received accolades for reducing Wisconsin's welfare roles, was named head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Whitman was chosen to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.


Whitman's appointment to the EPA is a way for Bush to please both wings of the Republican Party. As a pro-choice governor, Whitman has received nothing but criticism from her party's right wing, which almost sank her reelection bid in 1997 when it endorsed a pro-life, third-party candidate. By choosing the New Jersey governor to head the EPA, Bush can prove that he is reaching out to moderates in his party, while conservatives can take solace the fact that her abortion views will not play a role in her work. [Anthony York, 4 p.m. PST 12/21/00]

The appointments come after Bush named four new members of his Cabinet Wednesday -- Paul O'Neill as secretary of the Treasury, Don Evans as secretary of commerce, Ann Veneman as secretary of agriculture and Mel Martinez as secretary of housing and urban development -- none of whom seems to have drawn immediate fire from anyone except, ironically, conservatives. O'Neill, chairman of aluminum maker Alcoa, has been identified by most as a moderate, and drew nothing but polite cooing from major papers like the New York Times and Washington Post. The Times said Bush "acted wisely" by picking O'Neill, "despite the grumblings of some conservative ideologues." The Times also held out hope that O'Neill "will exercise his sound judgment by counseling Mr. Bush to scale back his proposed tax cuts" -- which the paper has called a bad idea during a flagging economy. The Post similarly deemed O'Neill "a reassuring choice." Notably, in his column on the same page, George Will claims the "sputtering economy is strengthening the case for Bush's tax cut." (Who is right about this? We'll report back when we get a straight answer -- and it probably won't be from either a Times editorial or Will.)

Will also is the latest conservative to take a crack at blacks who -- having favored Al Gore over Bush 9-to-1 -- are angry about the election result. Will acknowledges, "Granted, many African American leaders are miffed, but what else is new?" He says the "pouting" Congressional Black Caucus is stuck in a "time warp [that] clings to the idea that African Americans are as much victims of racism as they were 40 years ago." Similarly (albeit more diplomatically) Collin Levy, in the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com, writes, "Right now, the big Republican advantage over Democrats is the freedom to be colorblind," lauding the high-level appointments of Condi Rice and Colin Powell as evidence that Bush favors a meritocratic approach, "one that clearly doesn't appeal to Jesse Jackson and others who rely on blacks believing their only claim on advancement or success is white penance."


Both pieces follow William Safire's crotchety Monday column, which accused blacks of not really voting their consciences, and instead mindlessly voting in a bloc. Blacks, having done nothing to warm up to Bush during the election, are now out of luck, according to Safire. "Takes two to mend a rift," he wrote. "Infiltrate the GOP. Bore from within!" -- Kerry Lauerman [8:25 a.m. PST, 12/21/00]

No-go on Racicot
Montana Gov. Marc Racicot said he has rejected an offer from Bush to be the next U.S. attorney general. "I'm just at a point of time in life and with my family that I'm not sure that that would be in our best interest," Racicot told the Associated Press.

Racicot was one of the first governors to encourage Bush to make a run for the White House. Press speculation focused on the Montana governor during the Florida election standoff, when Racicot emerged as a vocal Bush supporter, holding press conferences and hitting the talk show circuit on Bush's behalf. Speculation now focuses on another governor, Oklahoma's Frank Keating, for the top job at the Justice Department. -- Anthony York [4:30 p.m. PST, 12/20/00]


Bill TV?
After NBC officials confirmed a report by Matt Drudge that President Clinton's allies had floated the idea of the president's starring in a TV show, Clinton pooh-poohed the idea in an interview with CBS's Dan Rather. The transcript reads:

Rather: There was a report today, you're thinking about hosting a television program. Anything to that?

Clinton: No. [Chuckle] You guys make more money than I have though. Maybe it's not a bad idea. You know, I hear it costs a lot of money to support a senator -- [Unintelligible]

Rather: Don't believe everything you read, Mr. President.

The exchange is notable because of A) the potential for presidential parsing: "Hosting a television program," we might later be told, isn't the same as, say, "engaging in a televised dialogue with the nation" or "having discussions with the great thinkers of our day who, hey, just happen to be in front of a camera"; and B) Rather's false (extremely false) modesty: The man's salary is estimated at $7 million -- almost as much as Hillary Clinton's book advance.


Clinton: Pardon me?
Bush continues to make appointments to his Cabinet. Republican officials leaked to the Washington Post three definite announcements planned for Wednesday: Mel Martinez, a Florida government official and Cuban immigrant to be housing secretary; close Bush friend and campaign chairman Don Evans as commerce secretary; and California lawyer Ann Veneman as deputy secretary of agriculture. Other possible announcements include Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (whose welfare-to-work program launched a national welfare rehaul) as secretary of health and human services and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Should any or all of these folks get the nod Wednesday, they will at least be spared the pre-announcement drubbing that Bush's probable secretary of defense, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, took. Coats, a social conservative, faced criticism by gay groups, who say his voting record demonstrates intolerance equal to that of his former colleagues Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. "We're not as worried as the gay groups, but almost," retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning of the Women's Research and Education Institute told the Post, adding, "Of all the nominees I've heard of so far, he's the only one who makes my hair stand on end." -- Kerry Lauerman [6:30 a.m. PST, 12/20/00]

Salon Staff

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