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President-Elect Bush, Senate Democrats Prepare for Fight Over Ashcroft Nomination

Aired January 12, 2001 - 1:06 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: The forecast in Washington, D.C. calls for continued thin ice beneath at least two of the president-elect's Cabinet picks.

Joining us now with the latest on that, CNN's Eileen O'Connor at the White House -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, it doesn't look like Gale Norton is going to have to fall through that ice, although environmental groups are lining up against her. They're waging a public relations battle against her. They say that she is not fit to serve as interior secretary under George W. Bush, that she has a bad record on the economy; that she's called for things like drilling in areas that they would like to have protected.

But on Capitol Hill, she so far is the only witness at her confirmation hearing, which should -- suggests that while she may face some tough questioning from senators on the committee, she will be approved. Also likely to be approved, Elaine Chao, a very noncontroversial pick by George W. Bush to replace Linda Chavez, who was his controversial pick for labor secretary. She withdraw her name, as you know, because of a controversy over her hiring of an illegal immigrant.

Elaine Chao, a very different picture. As deputy secretary of transportation in the previous Bush administration, she has some experience and also she has -- was the director of the United Way. So, she actually worked with labor unions during that time. They have said they're willing to work with her and Democrats see this pick as indication that George W. Bush is preserving his political capital for the real battle, which is going to be waged over his nomination for attorney general, John Ashcroft.

Democrats on Capitol Hill say they are scouring his record. They intend to air all of his record on abortion and also on civil rights, and they say that he is not fit to serve as attorney general because he will have to uphold the laws of the land and laws that he disagrees with, particularly on abortion and particularly on affirmative action -- Lou.

WATERS: Anything new on the Middle East front, Eileen? Any more talk about the end of the Clinton presidency being the deadline for any or all of this? O'CONNOR: Well, as for the Middle East, the president says that he is trying to bring the two sides together as close as possible to sort of at least set up a baseline from which to start for the Bush administration. But, Lou, on another front, closer to home, the warring factions he has not been able to bring together so far on the domestic front. He said he's not sure that he will be able to bring those factions together before he leaves office.

WATERS: All right, Eileen O'Connor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did better with the Palestinian and Israelis then I've done with Socks and Buddy, and I won't have as much -- I won't have as much space or as much help in managing them, so I'm trying to figure out whether I can do it because I've had that cat a long time. You know, we took him in as a stray back in Arkansas and I hate to give him, although Betty and a lot of other people here in the White House really love him. But, it's just another one of those places where I haven't yet made peace. But I've got eight days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: I know that was a surprise to you, Lou, but no, I wasn't talking about the Middle East or any other warring factions around the world in Bosnia, it's Socks and Buddy. And this is really truly a battle that's very close to home. Right now, they have lines of demarcation. They have some no-dog zones in the White House for socks, but so far, they're not sure they can keep up that separation when the president moves to smaller quarters, so it may be that Socks is going to have to move out.

WATERS: Well, if it isn't one thing, it's another, huh?

O'CONNOR: Yes.

WATERS: Eileen O'Connor keeping watch at the White House today. We'll check back, of course.

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