Bush taps a Democrat

Clinton appointee Norm Mineta is selected to head the Department of Transportation, opponents gear up to battle the Bush agenda and Democrats target John Ashcroft

Published January 2, 2001 12:40PM (EST)

President-elect George W. Bush made his final three appointments Tuesday, tapping a former Republican senator as secretary of energy, a Reagan appointee to the Department of Labor and naming his first Democrat to a Cabinet post.

Sen. Spencer Abraham of Michigan, who was defeated by Democrat Debbie Stabenow in November, was selected by Bush to head the Department of Energy. Linda Chavez, the former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, was selected to run the labor department while current Commerce Secretary and former California Congressman Norm Mineta is ready to be named Transportation secretary. [Anthony York, 12 p.m. PST]

Though the education reform proposal Bush plans to send to Congress on Day 1 of his administration includes provisions allowing public dollars for private schools, that could be just for show. There's talk that Bush is willing to back down on school choice and may use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Congress.

Meanwhile, Democrats still smarting from the Supreme Court's call on Bush vs. Gore may not be so willing to bargain on judicial nominations. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has warned Bush to "look for competence over ideology," or else prepare for a rough time during confirmation hearings.

That's exactly what the new president could face with conservative darling and outgoing Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, Bush's pick for top federal cop. The choice has gotten the big boo-hiss from left leaners and moderates. Democrats see Ashcroft as a good target for "Bork-ing" because of his civil rights record and his views on abortion. It's no great surprise that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has vowed to fight Ashcroft's nomination to the bitter end.

Bush is also catching heat from environmentalists for picking Gale Norton to head the Department of the Interior. Norton, Colorado's first female attorney general, is tops with the property-rights crowd, and environmentalists worry that she'll enthusiastically sell out to business interests.

By Alicia Montgomery

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

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