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Transition of Power: Bush Administration Continues to Take Shape; NPR's Ken Rudin Discusses Preliminary Picture

Aired December 20, 2000 - 1:20 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Bush administration continues to take shape. More names are being added today to the roster of top selections for such key cabinet positions as Treasury and housing.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is with the president-elect in Austin. She joins us now -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, coming to you again from a very windy Austin. One down and at least three more to go with just about a month till Inauguration Day, President Bush -- President-elect Bush and his team are working quickly to try to build a cabinet. And that is why Mr. Bush is holding not one, but two mini news conferences today.

At the first one, which wrapped up just about an hour ago, he introduced his nominee for Treasury secretary: 65-year-old Paul O'Neill, currently chairman of the Alcoa Corporation. He worked as deputy budget director in the Ford administration when Vice President- elect Dick Cheney was Mr. Ford's chief of staff. He is also someone who has known Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, since about 1969. And in making this announcement, Mr. Bush said that Paul O'Neill is the right person to steer the economy through what he said could be troubling times.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Our economy is showing warning signs of a possible slowdown. And so it was incredibly important for me to find somebody who had vast experience, who is a steady hand, who, when he speaks, speaks with authority and conviction and knowledge. I found such a man in Paul O'Neill.


WALLACE: Now, in that news conference, Mr. Bush was asked if he worried that by talking about an economic downturn, he might actually create one. Mr. Bush saying he is still hopeful about the economy. But he said if it doesn't remain robust, he has a plan, and that does include his $1.3 trillion across-the-board tax cut.

Now, Mr. Bush was also asked about a meeting he is having this afternoon. He has invited religious leaders and community leaders to Austin to discuss what he calls faith-based solutions to society's problems, a third of the people coming here African-American ministers. Mr. Bush conceded that he has to mend some fences with African Americans, who overwhelmingly voted for Al Gore.


BUSH: I've got a lot of work to do, Dave. I understand that. I've got a lot of work to do. But you know what? I welcome the opportunity. I look forward to the chance. I look forward to the chance of healing a nation that has been divided as a result of election -- an election.


WALLACE: And we are expecting at least three more announcements for cabinet appointees from Mr. Bush this afternoon. He is expected to tap his long-time friend and adviser, Don Evans, to be commerce secretary. He is also expected to name Mel Martinez, currently chairman of Orange County, Florida, to be Housing and Urban Development secretary. And then he is looking to Ann Veneman to be the agriculture secretary. She is -- well, most recently served as director of California's Food and Agriculture Department. She also worked, Joie, in George Bush's father's administration -- Joie.

Kelly Wallace for us in Austin, Texas -- Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Joie. And as these political pieces begin to fall into place, giving us an idea of what a new Bush administration will look like, we're calling upon Ken Rudin with National Public Radio now who will join us from Washington.

Ken, is it too early to make an assessment of what the next four years are going to look like based upon the choices being made early here?

KEN RUDIN, NPR POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, you could certainly say, Lou, that what the people that George Bush are picking are people who are actually -- represent all different kinds of ideological spectrum. We see some conservatives, we see some moderates. There's some talk about Christy Whitman as the EPA commissioner. We see conservatives as Dan Coates as perhaps the defense secretary; maybe Marc Racicot as the attorney general.

So that plus the folks he's picked already seem to give a broad -- basically a broad perspective of the Republican Party.

WATERS: Let's take what is arguably the most important position, that of secretary of state. Colin Powell gets it, widely respected on both sides of the aisle. But there have been some suggestions because of the global situation now, maybe someone from the business establishment, someone who could assess the global economy and what comes next might have been a better pick in a position like that?

RUDIN: Well, I would disagree with that only because, you know, George Bush said he was the outsider. He's from Texas, he's a Washington outsider. But, of course, when you come to Washington, you need insiders to have -- to secure the confidence of allies around the world. And I think nobody better does that than Colin Powell.

WATERS: Do you see any problem with confirmation for any of these folks with a 50/50 Senate?

RUDIN: Well, I know that a lot of people, certain women's groups, pro-choice, pro-abortion rights groups, are not happy with the prospect of Dan Coates as defense secretary. Of course, that has not been announced yet. That is the speculation. Some of the pro-choice would have preferred Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania. And there are some noises about some demonstrations perhaps as early as tomorrow in Washington on the possibility of a Coates nomination.

And there are some people also that, you know, some interest groups are not happy with. But by and large, I think the mood here in Washington is not too different than what Al Gore said the other day, that he wants to give the new president, the president-elect, a fair shot, an honest -- a good honeymoon. And I think he'll get that, too.

Remember, you know, we talk about how truncated this transition period is. Bill Clinton had a full transition period eight years ago, and yet it wasn't until March when he finally had an attorney general in Janet Reno.

WATERS: Right.

RUDIN: So obviously everything, you know, every bit helps and all the time matters.

WATERS: Let's talk about Bill Clinton for a moment. He talked about his scandal, his Lewinsky scandal on "60 Minutes II" last night. Like to play that for you now.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made a terrible personal mistake which I tried to correct in private, which then got dragged into public. That was dark for me.

I felt that, to me, if we could defeat impeachment, it was like the second big battle of the Gingrich revolution. The first was when they shut the government down, and that was the second one. That doesn't mean I didn't make a terrible mistake. But here were 800 people, including a lot of Republicans, who were legal and constitutional scholars who wrote a letter saying this was not an impeachable offense and shouldn't even be considered. And they all knew that, too. That was a political battle we were involved in.


WATERS: Well, Ken, do you think history will buy that analysis?

RUDIN: Well, you know, we finally stopped talking about dimpled chads. I was hoping we'd stop talking about Monica Lewinsky by now.


WATERS: No way.

RUDIN: But the point is, you know, we always talk about -- we talk about a president's legacy after he leaves office. Bill Clinton is not leaving. He's not going anywhere. You know, he still has a transition office in Washington. He'll be here another six months. He pushed through Terry McAuliffe, his golfing buddy, as the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And, of course, you know, what's-her-name is the new senator-elect from New York. So Bill Clinton will be there for a while and very conscious and aware of what his legacy will look like.

WATERS: Good ol' what's-her-name. Thank you very much, Ken Rudin, with NPR.



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