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Bush Nominee for Secretary of Labor Faces Questions About Illegal Alien

Aired January 8, 2001 - 4:39 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We have been telling you today about some of the controversy now surrounding some of the figures tapped for key roles in the upcoming Bush administration. Joining us now to talk more about this are two members of Congress.

Representative Bernie Sanders is an independent from the state of Vermont. Also with us today is Jeff Flake, who is a newly elected Republican from the state of Arizona.

Mr. Flake, I'd like to begin with you. Your state, of course, one in which immigration is certainly a very important and key issue. You are a Republican, however, probably, I understand, a supporter of Mr. Bush and his appointees, and you also know Linda Chavez. This latest controversy surrounding her, that she brought a woman to live in her home who was an illegal immigrant to this country, what do you make of that?

REP. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, I've known Linda for years and she's a very kind individual, and it sounds as if what she did was an act of compassion. And this is what the nominating process is about, and I'm sure these questions will be answered.

CHEN: Well, an act of compassion, but is this going to be something that could hold up her nomination, do you think?

FLAKE: I don't think so. I think that when it is explained and when she explains the situation, the comfort level will increase.

CHEN: Mr. Sanders, do you see this as going to be something acceptable to critics who may lie on the Hill, particularly in the Senate that will consider the nomination? A compassionate act by a Cabinet nominee?

REP. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I really think there's something more involved than just that potential incident. And that is, as you know, Mr. Bush received 500,000 less votes than Mr. Gore. He may or may not have won the state of Florida, and he comes forward during the campaign as saying that he is a unifier and not a divider. What concerns me very much with the nomination of Ms. Chavez as well as John Ashcroft is that he is really bringing forth extreme, right- wing proponents who are not going to be uniters. They're going to be very divisive forces if, in fact, they are nominated. I don't know -- have enough information about the issue of the illegal -- the alleged illegal immigrant that worked for Ms. Chavez. But I think you've got a real problem with the secretary of labor is opposed to increases in the minimum wage when the minimum wage today is basically a starvation wage of $5.15 an hour. So it goes beyond the issue of the illegal immigrant.

But whether or not this nominee is going to really represent working people in this country or is going to work against their best interests?

CHEN: Let me ask you this, though -- you wouldn't be voting; of course, you're not a member of the Senate. You wouldn't be voting on the nomination yourself. But could you accept the possibility that an illegal immigrant -- and we haven't, as you said, heard all the details of this -- but that an illegal immigrant lived in the home of a Cabinet secretary? Could you accept that if you could live with the issues -- with the positions that she takes on these issues that you bring up?

SANDERS: Well, I can't live with the positions that she's taken on the issues. In terms of the illegal immigrant, I think the hearing will discover what she in fact did.

I would remind you that one of Clinton's nominees, or more than one, was faced with a similar problem and ended up withdrawing her name as a candidate for attorney general.

CHEN: And that would be Zoe Baird.


CHEN: Mr. Flake, Mr. Sanders brings up an interesting point here. Is the holdup or is the questioning going to be more along the lines of Ms. Chavez's personal history and what she's done? Or is there going to be a greater question about the issues and the positions she represents?

FLAKE: Well, I hope that what it's about are her qualifications. Certainly, President Bush -- President-elect Bush has a right to appoint individuals who share his philosophy and his beliefs. And I think he's done that. And she's a good person. She's a person of integrity. And I think as the process goes on, that America will see that.

CHEN: But in terms of positions -- and we're not talking only here about Ms. Chavez but also Mr. Ashcroft, as Mr. Sanders brings up -- I mean, these people have generated some controversy over the positions. Mr. Ashcroft, some of the defense has been, that, look, he may have certain positions but he will uphold the law, and that is the important thing here.

FLAKE: With regard to Mr. Ashcroft, it would be hard to find a more qualified individual if you look for years. Here's an individual who was a law professor, then served as attorney general, was head of the association of attorneys general, then was a governor, then was a senator, served on the Judiciary Committee there.

He is eminently qualified, and I can tell you personally -- I know John Ashcroft, and he's a great individual. He's a person of integrity.

CHEN: Qualifications over positions, even if perhaps they might ring contradictory?

FLAKE: I think -- I think qualifications is what they will look at mostly. But certainly, the president has a prerogative to appoint individuals that share his agenda and his philosophy, and Mr. Ashcroft does.

SANDERS: Well, of course, the president has the right to nominate anybody that he wants. But again, I would reiterate the fact that President Bush has talked about bringing the Congress and the American people together. By appointing some extreme right-wingers, you're not going to do that.

In terms of Mr. Ashcroft -- and I don't know him personally, and again, the hearing will determine the most important parts about his career -- he -- there are some very serious allegations that he acted in an unethical way regarding the nomination to a circuit court of a black Missouri Supreme Court justice, and he played a very bad role.

FLAKE: I would have to jump in and say I don't think that that has been part of anything coming forward. I don't think anybody...

SANDERS: Oh, I would beg to differ.

FLAKE: ... could seriously accuse him of something...


CHEN: I think we will hear about all these issues as the confirmation process goes forward. Unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it there. Representative Bernie Sanders and Jeff Flake as well, thank you both for being with us.

FLAKE: Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you.



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