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CNN Today

Bush Stands Behind Linda Chavez

Aired January 8, 2001 - 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: With less than two weeks to go before he starts his new job, George W. Bush is juggling a lot of duties these days; one of which seemed particularly fitting for a man who has promised a humble approach in office. This morning the president- elect himself helped load some of the boxes moved for Austin on to the White House. Maybe he was concerned with what the movers were doing.

In an case, Bush transition officials, meantime, say they are combing through their interviews with Linda Chavez to determine exactly what she told them about an illegal immigrant who once worked in -- lived in her home. Now, this disclosure raising questions about Chavez' nomination to be Bush's labor secretary.

CNN's Major Garrett joins us now with the latest from Austin -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Joie.

Well, a little bit of heavy lifting on the policy side, also, here today in Austin for the president-elect. He met this afternoon with senior Republicans and Democrats on the defense and national security committees.

Now, some would say, well, just another meeting about defense policy, what much could happen there? Well, it's part of a very careful courtship that the Bush team has gone through with members of Congress. Typically, members of Congress are not invited to sit down to talk to a president-elect before he takes office. But this president-elect has made sure he develops very quick and very solid contacts with members of Congress on all policy fronts, and defense was the topic today.

Because if Congress is going to go along with some of the changes that the Bush people want to make in defense policy, they're going to need to know and understand what the president-elect is thinking; that was the topic today.

A couple of key things that the president-elect wants to do with defense policy: develop and deploy a national missile defense system. That's a change in policy and also a very expensive one; he wants to bring Congress along with that. Also, possibly remove U.S. troops from the Balkans or reduce their numbers. Congress would have to be persuaded to go along with that. Members of Congress thoroughly enjoy being courted by an incoming president; the Bush team has made sure they cover that front as well as they can.

And also, on the Linda Chavez front: As you said, Bush transition officials now making clear they're doubling back, rechecking their facts about what Linda Chavez told them about an illegal immigrant who lived with her from 1991 to 1992. Originally Mrs. Chavez said that she never knew the woman was an illegal immigrant. But she told -- the illegal immigrant, that is -- "The Washington Post" that Mrs. Chavez, in fact, did know.

Bush transition officials are trying to sort all that out. Of course, the president-elect was asked about Linda Chavez today; whether he remained confident in her pick as the labor secretary. He said he did; he also had this to observe about her overall talents for the job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT: She's got a unique background. She's plenty capable and she's smart. She understands her job is to, for example, make sure that this economy of ours is -- it roars forward, and hopefully it will; doesn't leave people behind; that there's work training programs that are effective to help people be able to work in the jobs of the 21st century. And I believe -- strongly believe that when the Senate gives her a fair hearing they'll vote for her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: More transition news for you, Joie: CNN has just learned that the president-elect's choice to be the secretary of state Colin Powell just concluded a meeting on Capitol Hill with the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott. It was a private meeting in Mr. Lott's office; part of Mr. Powell's effort to begin his confirmation process on a good foot by getting in touch with the top Republican leader -- Joie.

CHEN: Major, people generally think of General Powell as one of those figures who's almost immune to any sort of questioning; but there is some concern about him from the right, is there not?

GARRETT: Well, there is some concern about him from the right, although not very much, dealing with his jobs as secretary of state. What was the story -- the development -- that developed over the weekend that he's sure to be talked about at his confirmation hearing. "The Jerusalem Post" reported over the weekend that five days before the election General Powell who was, of course, a private citizen at that time, delivered an extemporaneous 30-minute talk at Tufts University.

"The Jerusalem Post" says that for that conversation -- for that little speech, he received $200,000 through an endowment at the university funded by a gentleman named Isam Ferris (ph), who is the deputy foreign minister of Lebanon. Now, Mr. Powell' spokesman, Bill Smellan (ph), has since told CNN that that figure, $200,000, is a gross exaggeration, nowhere close to the amount that General Powell received; and the fact of the matter is that the compensation was much lower and that General Powell has made no secret that, throughout his private life, he's given speeches, collected money for it and makes no secret about it.

But all of that will be disclosed at the proper time at his confirmation meeting -- Joie.

CHEN: And they'll really discuss that, I'm sure. CNN's Major Garrett for us in Austin, Texas.

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