"Nannygate" crisis for Bush nominee?

Linda Chavez's "charity" to an illegal immigrant could cost her the labor spot; Socks' successor gets the boot.

Published January 8, 2001 12:20PM (EST)

Things may not work out for President-elect George W. Bush's pick for the top spot at the Department of Labor. In the early '90s, Linda Chavez housed Marta Mercado, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, who also did odd jobs for the labor secretary designee. Though Chavez admits giving Mercado spending money, both women deny that they had an employer-employee relationship.

That's a critical distinction, given that Zoë Baird's nomination for attorney general in 1993 died after she acknowledged her failure to pay Social Security taxes for an illegal immigrant she had hired as a nanny. Democrats are already comparing Chavez to Baird, and pointing out that knowingly housing an illegal immigrant is against the law. The revelation could provide cover for those who oppose Chavez's views on affirmative action, the minimum wage and a host of other labor issues.

Chavez may surpass Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft as the most endangered Bush Cabinet pick, though Democrats have not given up on stopping his selection either. Sen. Joe Biden has raised concerns about Ashcroft's connection to "white supremacist" magazines, alluding to the former Missouri senator's 1998 interview in the neo-Confederate publication Southern Partisan. Sen. Tom Daschle said that if concerns about the nominee's civil rights record aren't adequately addressed, "I don't know of a Democrat who isn't prepared to vote against Senator Ashcroft."

A blast from the past could inject the issue of race into the confirmation hearings of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. In a tape of a 1971 conversation between Rumsfeld and Richard Nixon, the defense secretary designee can be heard saying "Yes" and "That's right" in response to a series of racist statements by Nixon. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed Rumsfeld's replies as perfunctory. Until now, the biggest challenge anticipated for Rumsfeld has been concern about potential turf wars with Secretary of State wannabe Colin Powell.

In the piece in Saturday's Chicago Tribune that broke the story of the tape, writer James Warren calls the chat "both a vivid reminder of the Good Nixon, clearly looking out for someone he sought to nurture, and the Bad Nixon, replete with pettiness and bigotry in Rumsfeld's presence."

Warren says the conversation between Nixon and Rumsfeld "underscores a bond between the two men, especially when it came to a mutual sense of Rumsfeld's talent, loyalty, zest for government service and ambition."

But in the July 22, 1971, conversation between Nixon and Rumsfeld, in which Rumsfeld plays yes man while Nixon bashes Democrats and Spiro Agnew, an accurate portrayal of history seems to have been one of the casualties. The conversation is reminiscent of Bob Dole's comment in the 1976 vice presidential debate about the "Democrat wars," which haunted Dole and Gerald Ford throughout the '76 campaign.

While discussing the Vietnam War, Nixon tells Rumsfeld, "When we get down to it, the war will be over one way or another, next year at this time. [The Democrats] got us in; we got us out."

"Exactly, that's right," Rumsfeld says. "Republicans got us out of Democrat wars four times in this century."

"Four times in this century," Nixon responds. "They got us into World War I; they got us into World War II ... They got us into Korea; Eisenhower got us out. They got us into Vietnam; Nixon got us out."

Nixon was right about Korea. But U.S. involvement began under Eisenhower, though Kennedy escalated it dramatically. And both world wars began and ended during Democratic administrations.
-- Anthony York and Alicia Montgomery [11:20 a.m. PST, Jan. 8, 2001]

Socks' successor gets the boot
Just weeks after the battle for Florida concluded, controversy erupted anew Monday over who, exactly, would be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. come Jan. 20.

The confusion began Monday morning, as President-elect George W. Bush, surrounded by moving boxes in the Texas Governor's Mansion, spoke to reporters Monday about the big move east.

The pets are "a little confused as to why all their favorite sleeping slots are being removed," Bush said.

Asked if the pets are all going to Washington, Bush said: "They'll be going." That news threw the New York Post's Deborah Orin, who was Monday's pool reporter, for a loop.

"This was a bit of a surprise to your pool who had been reliably informed by [Bush aide] Gordon [Johndroe] (and others) -- and has so reported -- that the fully clawed Ernie isn't going to Washington because he is a 'freer spirit' used to the outdoors and instead would be adopted by a Bush friend to spare him the sadness of what happened to Socks at the White House," she wrote. "Gordon is now rechecking whether Ernie is or isn't DC-bound."

The clarification came courtesy of Orin's next report, just hours later, as an anxious nation waited.

"For those concerned with Ernie's fate, indeed the orange and white cat is not going to the White House (as first revealed in Sunday's N.Y. Post, by the way)," she wrote. "Gordon says the president meant all pets currently resident in Texas will be going to the White House. Ernie is no longer a Texas resident -- he moved to California over the weekend."

Guess it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.
-- Anthony York [4 p.m. PST, Jan. 8, 2001]

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------