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Transition of Power: Ashcroft Selected for Attorney General; New Jersey Gov. Whitman Up For EPA Head

Aired December 22, 2000 - 1:17 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Back on to the transition to the Bush administration now. He lost his bid for reelection to a man who died in a plane crash, but Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft doesn't have to worry about being unemployed for long -- at least he hopes not. Just days after he gives up his Senate seat, Ashcroft hopes to be part of the Bush administration, at least if he gets some assistance from his friends in the Senate.

Joining us now from Austin, Texas is CNN's Kelly Wallace on that -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, it was definitely political history when Republican Sen. John Ashcroft lost to a man no longer alive: the late Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri. Well, Sen. Ashcroft said that political defeat gave him perspective, and now he is poised to return to public service. He is the nominee for attorney general.

Mr. Bush hailed Sen. Ashcroft as a man of unique integrity. The former two-term governor of Missouri and former state attorney general is a conservative Republican. He opposes abortion rights and background checks for gun shows. He was also widely criticized during his reelection campaign for his role in defeating the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White for a federal judgeship. Mr. Ashcroft said that he did not believe Mr. White was hard enough on crime. Earlier today, he told reporters that he would rule the department of justice with integrity, respecting all Americans of all backgrounds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT (R-MO), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Quite simply, we will strive to be a guardian of liberty and equal justice. For freedom, as President-elect Bush has noted, can flourish only in a culture defined by the rule of law; a rule of law that knows no class, that sees no color, and bows to no creed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And when my colleague, CNN's Major Garrett, asked President-elect Bush about the Ronnie White nomination, he said that he believes Sen. Ashcroft would enforce the civil rights laws on the books. And then he added this: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT: He's a man who has got a good and decent heart. And he had his reasons for blocking a single nomination. And I thought about that, and I looked at the facts, and I listened to him. And there's no question in my mind that this is a person who believes in civil rights for all citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: So one cabinet vacancy filled, Mr. Bush now looking at other agencies, expected to make more decisions later this afternoon. He will name New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. She has been New Jersey's governor since 1994, the first female governor of New Jersey, viewed as a moderate and a very vocal supporter of abortion rights.

Another announcement expected today: Republican Gov. James Gilmore of Virginia. He is expected to be named the next chairman of the Republican National Committee, obviously a key position for Republicans who hope that they will maintain control of the U.S. Congress in the elections in 2002.

So more announcement this afternoon, Joie. After that, Mr. Bush and his wife Laura headed to their ranch for a much-needed Christmas break -- Joie.

CHEN: We'll be watching for those announcement. Kelly Wallace for us in Austin.

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