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Has Bush Kept Both Parties Happy with His Cabinet Nominations So Far?

Aired December 22, 2000 - 4:04 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: Some new names were added today to the emerging Bush administration, announced within the past half-hour -- in fact, within the past few minutes: New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The Whitman nomination followed Bush's announcement of a very staunch conservative to head the Department of Justice.

We get latest now on the latest appointments from CNN senior White House correspondent John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT (R-MO), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: OK.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For John Ashcroft, it has been a year remember -- to say the least.

ASHCROFT: Thank you for helping us.

KING: He considered running for president, then decided instead to seek reelection to the Senate. He will be remembered in history for losing to a dead man. Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan was killed in an October plane crash, but his name remained on the ballot. And his widow Jean was then appointed to the seat. Ashcroft decided against a legal challenge and was preparing to head back home to Missouri. Then president-elect Bush called.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, it's my honor to send to the United States Senate the name of Senator John Ashcroft to become the attorney general of the United States.

KING: Ashcroft is a former state attorney general and governor, an outspoken abortion foe.

GLORIA FELDT, PRES., PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Because the attorney general argues for the administration before courts -- and certainly that includes the United States Supreme Court -- he could aggressively pursue overturning Roe vs. Wade.

KING: Ashcroft opposed legislation to penalize tobacco companies if they didn't crack down on teen smoking, accepted an honorary degree from the conservative Bob Jones University, and called on President Clinton to resign because of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHCROFT: I believe this president has compromised the integrity of the presidency. And he has done it in a way which makes him incapable of continuing to represent the national interests effectively. And as a result, I think he should resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senate Democrats will have tough questions. Some African- American leaders worry the new Republican administration will be lax in enforcing civil-rights laws and in investigating allegations of voting improprieties this year in Florida and elsewhere. And Ashcroft took the lead role in defeating the nomination of Ronnie White for a federal judgeship. White was the first black to serve on the Missouri Supreme Court.

ASHCROFT: Well, Ronnie White was not confirmed by the United States Senate because he was soft on crime. He had a poor record of voting to expand loopholes.

KING: But Ashcroft is generally well liked by his Senate colleagues,, one of four members of the Singing Senators.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And those Senate connections were a major plus, helping Mr. Ashcroft secure this nomination. Bush advisers believed, heading into this search, the Democrats would be particularly tough on anyone who was nominated to be the next attorney general. But they believe the Senate is very unlikely to reject one of its own -- Joie.

CHEN: And in tune, perhaps, with the Senate on that. Let's talk about the other appointments made today by the president-elect. I guess he's done for the weekend, going out to his ranch for the holiday weekend. But he gave up two other names today.

KING: He certainly did: Christie Todd Whitman, the governor of New Jersey, named the EPA administrator, the top environmental official in a Bush administration. Like President Clinton, President Bush said he would keep that as a Cabinet-level position. Look at where she ended up. She ended up at the Environmental Agency.

She was a candidate -- conservatives were worried, because she is very vocal in her support of abortion rights. They were worried when her name surfaced as a potential secretary of health and human services. Even the Labor Department nomination would have drawn opposition from conservatives. They will be quiet that she is there, although many unhappy she is in the administration at all -- that a reaching by Governor Bush showing that he is not letting the conservative pressure on him affect everyone he picks for the Cabinet.

The other choice today also has conservatives very happy. The Virginia governor, Jim Gilmore, will be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee. That job not as important as it is when you have a Republican in the White House. The party chairman tends to speak for the party when you are out of power and not in the White House. But Mr. Gilmore: a favorite of conservatives, a board member of the National Rifle Association, a proven fund-raiser, somebody Governor Bush thinks very highly of because he is a colleague as governor.

And the political operation will be directed from the White House, Karl Rove, the top campaign strategist, will be announced next week, in a key White House job. And he will work closely with Governor Gilmore now, as this president -- remember, he was elected with fewer votes than his opponent -- as this president gets about the business not only of taking office, but of trying to build and increase his political base.

CHEN: And it is really is about 2002, Mr. Gilmore's selection?

KING: Well, certainly, you have in the midterm elections, history will tell you the president's party loses seats in the midterm elections. This president, George W. Bush, will take the oath of office with a 50-50 Senate. It will ultimately be controlled by Republicans because of Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote, if necessary -- a nine-seat Republican majority in the House.

So, certainly, as new president: already very fragile political situation, hoping his party does not lose seats in his first midterm election. That happened to President Clinton, obviously, when the Republicans knocked the Democrats out of control of Congress.

CHEN: Our senior White House correspondent, John King for us in Washington.

Now we turn to CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider: he, too, is in Washington.

Bill, I guess the president-elect moved all across the Republican Party spectrum from morning to afternoon: from Ashcroft down to Governor Whitman. Tell us about that.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. You don't get much farther to the left -- if that's a word you can apply to Republicans. Christie Whitman, who is very much a moderate Republican, and, as indicated, an outspoken supporter of abortion rights -- and all the way to the right: John Ashcroft, who is a favorite of the religious right: very outspoken on abortion, critic of affirmative action, gay rights, and very close to the religious right.

CHEN: His name does come as a bit of a surprise. I had heard that, when he was governor and when he was running for president, Mr. Bush had mentioned Mr. Ashcroft as a possible guy he'd like to see on the Supreme Court.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's -- he has been named. He is a favorite of conservatives. And this is a key appointment because it's attorney general. Notice, Christie Whitman is in the Environmental Protection Agency. That has nothing to do with abortion or gay rights or any the hot-button issues. It does, of course, have to do with the environmental issues, which are important. But her views on the environment are quite moderate.

In the case of the attorney general, all the social issues stop at the attorney general's desk: gay rights, abortion rights, affirmative action, women's right. That is where the social-issue agenda comes home. And that's why it was very important for conservatives to have one of their own in that position -- very controversial views. But as John said a few minutes ago, he would have less trouble than anyone else with his views because he's a member of the Senate club. And as a defeated member of the Senate, he gets a lot of sympathy from his colleagues.

CHEN: And a lot of support among senators for that appointment: It makes it easier, paves the way a little bit there?

SCHNEIDER: It will pave the way. There will be some controversy. A lot of -- there are no African-Americans in the Senate. They are often critical of Ashcroft's views. But I think there will be some senators -- probably starting with Senator Kennedy -- who will be very critical -- but in the end, very likely to be confirmed by the Senate.

CHEN: Did naming Ashcroft in the morning make it possible to name Governor Whitman in the afternoon?

SCHNEIDER: Ah! Are you suggesting a political strategy there?

CHEN: Oh, just a question.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, far from it -- president-elect. My goodness, it's Christmas. But something for everybody? That's the Santa Claus strategy. And that's what president-elect Bush has just done.

CHEN: Let's talk about Jim Gilmore and his role: expected to the RNC chairman, and the president-elect choosing him. Why?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Well, he's a good fund-raiser, number one. Number two, he's governor of Virginia for another year. Richmond, Virginia is just two hours from Washington. He's going to keep his job as governor of Virginia. But he's close. He's just around the corner. And most of all, the 2002 election -- the midterm election -- is in the states: a lot of key governors' races up.

Republicans are very close in Congress. But they have a big edge in governorships that they won in 1994 and kept in 1998. And they want to keep those governorships in 2002. They have, I think, 29 out of the 50 governors. So it's going to be a crucial race in the states. And Jim Gilmore, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, knows something about governors and a lot about the states.

CHEN: All right, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joining us from Washington.

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