Bush picks Chao for labor chief

Sen. McConnell's wife is likely to sail through confirmation; Ashcroft gets a boost while Norton gets more trouble.

Published January 12, 2001 11:50AM (EST)

President-elect George W. Bush moved quickly to plug the hole in his Cabinet left by Linda Chavez, his recently departed labor secretary pick. Elaine Chao, his new choice to head the Department of Labor, is considered highly qualified and practically un-Bork-able.

Chao's résumé is light on labor issues but heavy with management experience. She served as a deputy in the Bush I Transportation Department, briefly led the Peace Corps and headed the United Way, the nonprofit giant, from 1992 to 1996. Chao is currently a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

One important reason her confirmation is considered a lock is that she's married to Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. He's not known for backing down from a fight under any circumstances, and doesn't take kindly to fellow politicians who pick on his wife. In 1999, he let his state's long-shot GOP gubernatorial candidate, Peppy Martin, twist in the wind after she referred to Chao as McConnell's "Chinese connection." Chao and her family immigrated to the United States when she was 8 years old.

If only John Ashcroft had married a senator. Though he has had a rocky ride as attorney general-designate, there are signs that his chances of confirmation are looking better. The veteran Missouri pol is getting a little more help from his friends after two weeks of a sustained attack by liberal advocacy groups. On Thursday, a coalition of about a dozen conservative women's organizations announced that it had had enough of the anti-Ashcroft crusade.

Even moderate Republicans like Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania support the Ashcroft nomination, and Democrats may not want to risk provoking Bush's ire -- or losing their Senate power-sharing deal -- by blocking confirmation of Ashcroft.

Gale Norton, the Interior Department nominee, may not be so lucky. Norton's connection to a frequently sued lead paint company has added to the perception of her vulnerability. Norton worked as chief lobbyist for NL Industries, which has been sued in New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, California and Wisconsin over several cases of lead poisoning.
-- Alicia Montgomery [6:45 a.m. PST, Jan. 11, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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