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George W. Bush Looks to Fill Final Cabinet Posts

Aired January 1, 2001 - 2:09 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: George W. Bush is looking to fill three final Cabinet posts, perhaps this week. He plans to get some advice on the economy also.

We get the latest from our senior White House correspondent John King, who today is with the Bush team in Texas -- John, what's going on?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's, right, Lou: a very busy stretch ahead, as the president-elect returns here to Austin, the state capital, to prepare to move to Washington just 20 days from now. He will check in with economists in his own team to get an assessment of the economy -- as you mentioned, three more Cabinet picks to fill: the departments of Labor, Transportation and Energy still open. And the president-elect has an inaugural speech to look over, write, and rehearse.

Twenty days from now, he drops that "elect" from his name and becomes the president of the United States. And as he prepares to do so: some troubling signs to the Bush team about when you look at the issue that, above all others, tends to decide any president's political standing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The slowing economy will get the president-elect's immediate attention in the new year. Mr. Bush is holding a two-day seminar with top advisers and business leaders to talk economic fundamentals and to plot a strategy for selling his across-the-board tax-cut plan to an evenly divided and somewhat skeptical Congress.

SEN. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: We'll probably adjust it to some extent. President Clinton vetoed elimination of the marriage penalty and death tax. That's very high on our priorities, and we have to decide whether to do it in, you know, one large package or more incrementally.

KING: The economy grew at an annual rate of 5 percent for the first half of the year but has slowed dramatically of late, just as Mr. Bush prepares to take office. Consumer confidence is at a two- year low, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 6.2 percent for the year: its worst performance since 1981.

It's not lost on Mr. Bush that his father lost the White House in 1992 because many voters felt he sat idly by during a punishing recession.

The president-elect says his $1.3 trillion tax cut is just the medicine the slowing economy needs. But tax revenues drop when the economy slows, and some argue a big tax cut would drain the Treasury even more and raise the risk of a return to deficit spending.

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, TREASURY SECRETARY: A strategy based on the importance of fiscal discipline, on paying down debt is a strategy that has been a very effective one and one that we would turn away from at our peril.

KING: President Clinton's final estimate is a surplus of $5 trillion over the next decade.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, the president-elect and his advisers believe if that $5 trillion figure is true, there's more than enough money for a sizable tax cut and still enough left over in Washington to keep the federal budget in the black -- Lou.

WATERS: Sunday talk heads again, John, were asking: Why no Democrat chosen for the Bush Cabinet? Trent Lott said he's still looking. Is he still looking?

KING: The president-elect says he is still looking. He says it's been tough to convince Democrats -- at least any prominent Democrats -- to join the new Republican administration. We are told, among those being considered, perhaps look for him to keep the current director of central intelligence, George Tenet. He is a Clinton appointee. He is a Democrat. There was talk that Don Rumsfeld might get that job. But Rumsfeld, instead, was the choice to lead the Pentagon.

We know former Congressman Lee Hamilton's name has been tossed around -- the Alaska Governor Tony Knowles -- a conservative Democratic congressman from this state, Texas, Ralph Hall, among those being look at for the Energy Department post. But president-elect Bush says it's been tough to find one. He says most of the Democrats in Congress want to stay there, because they have much more influence given the even divide between the Democrats and the Republicans.

WATERS: All right, John King, senior White House correspondent in Austin, Texas.

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