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Bush to tap Powell for Cabinet post Saturday

Bush and Breaux
President-elect Bush meets with Sen. Breaux at the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, Friday  
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O'ConnorEileen O'Connor: Bush team sifts through resumes

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AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- President-elect George W. Bush will name the first member of his Cabinet on Saturday, designating retired Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of state, Republican sources told CNN.

Bush has signaled repeatedly that Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, would play a major role in his administration. Two Republican officials close to the Bush transition effort told CNN on Friday that Powell would be named to lead the State Department in an announcement planned Saturday.

In addition, Bush was poised to name Al Gonzales, a Texas Supreme Court justice, as White House counsel, GOP sources said Friday. Bush appointed Gonzales, a former Texas secretary of state, to the state's highest court in 1999.

Asked directly whether Powell would be his first appointment, Bush said Friday, "I would hope people would give me the benefit of allowing me to name the person on our own timetable. So I would ask that folks wait until tomorrow when I name the person."

The popular Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of Bush's father and for part of President Clinton's first term as well. By naming Powell first, the incoming administration hopes to continue its recent strategy of sending reassuring bipartisan signals in the wake of the tumultuous post-election recount battle that ended only Wednesday.

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Bush's comments came after a conference with Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, a conservative Democrat whose name has been mentioned as a possible energy secretary. Breaux told Bush he was not interested in leaving the Senate for the executive branch, but Bush said he looked forward to working with Breaux in the Senate "to get some positive things done" on issues like education, health care and Medicare.

Added Breaux, "We look forward to you coming to Washington and meeting with our leadership, and trying to find some ways for government to work for everyone."

During the 106th Congress, the Louisiana senator spearheaded a bipartisan commission on Medicare reform, an issue certain to garner lawmakers' attention next year. In the brief question-and-answer session, Bush signaled the issue was one of his top priorities.

Friday marked the start of a series of meetings for Bush that will take him from Texas to Washington, where his running mate, Dick Cheney, has been leading the presidential transition effort. Monday, Bush will meet with Clinton, a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers and Vice President Al Gore, his former rival in the extended November election.

"You're going to see the president-elect do in Washington what he so successfully did in Texas, which is work well with people of both parties, bring people together," transition spokesman Ari Fleischer told CNN. "In Texas, he appointed Democrats to important positions, he led and he governed in a bipartisan fashion. That's the spirit he's going to bring to Washington."

Bush is expected to make the first announcement of his Cabinet from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, about two hours from Austin. An aide to Powell told CNN the former joint chiefs of staff chairman is certain to accept the post of secretary of state as soon as Bush makes an official offer.

In addition, Condoleezza Rice, Bush's chief international affairs adviser during the campaign, is likely to be named national security adviser. For defense secretary, Bush could name two more veterans of his father's administration -- Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage, both of whom served at the Pentagon while Vice President-elect Dick Cheney was secretary of defense.

Other names in circulation included former Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican; Arizona Sen. John McCain, Bush's rival in the GOP primaries; and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat. But both Nunn and McCain have said they are not interested in the job.

The Bush transition team began moving its headquarters Friday from temporary space in the Virginia suburbs to government-provided office space in Washington. The General Services Administration on Thursday turned over the official transition office space and a $5 million allocation to pay for the process.

The new leaders are speeding to make up for the five-week delay caused by the Florida recount. Aides said some posts in the new White House could be announced by Saturday, but many more remain: More than 6,400 administration jobs need to be filled, including 1,125 that require Senate approval.

Breaux's reluctance to join the Bush administration is good news for his fellow Democrats, since moving to the executive branch would give Republicans an edge in a new Senate that will be split 50-50. His departure would have allowed Louisiana's Republican governor to appoint a Republican replacement, giving the GOP a 51-49 edge.

Returning home late Thursday from a trip to Britain and Ireland, Clinton said he thought Democrats would give Bush a break during the early days of his administration.

"I think the Democrats will give him a honeymoon and an opportunity to get his feet on the ground and pass his programs and do something. And I think they ought to," he said.

Meanwhile, Cheney met Friday with Michigan Gov. John Engler, who headed the Bush campaign in Michigan. Engler said he was in Washington to help the new administration get "off to a quick start."

"They are well organized," Engler said. "They're really off to an amazing start for all the delay that's been built in."

But he discounted any talk that he might be vying for a position in the new administration.

"Being governor of Michigan, which is a great state, is a terrific job and I haven't been looking for something," he said. "I have a young family and Michelle and I don't really look at Washington as the right place for us right now."

Correspondents Candy Crowley, John King and Eileen O'Connor and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.


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Friday, December 15, 2000

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