by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
campaign promises to be a "uniter, not a divider," President-elect George W. Bush has chosen a remarkably partisan cabinet which, with only one exception, spans the ideological range from center-right to far right.
At the same time, the new cabinet, which will take office after Bush is inaugurated Jan. 20, is both more ethnically diverse and older than many had anticipated.
Of his 14 picks so far, Bush has chosen two African Americans, two Hispanic Americans, one Asian American, and one Arab American to take the top managerial positions in his administration. Four women will also serve in the cabinet.
The average age of the cabinet will be 58, making it older than those appointed by his three predecessors and reflecting Bush's surprising reliance on leading figures from the short-lived administration of Gerald Ford, who served as president after Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974 until his defeat by Jimmy Carter two years later.
Indeed, two of the three super-heavyweights in the new cabinet -- as well as Vice President Richard Cheney, who has headed Bush's transition team and shows every sign of acting as Bush's "prime minister" after the inaugural -- served in senior posts under Ford: Defense Secretary-designate Donald Rumsfeld, who held the same job 25 years ago, and Treasury Secretary-designate Paul O'Neill, a top official in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Cheney was Ford's chief of staff.
The same three, as well as Secretary of State-designate ret. Gen. Colin Powell, who first came to the attention of senior Republican power-brokers as a White House fellow under Ford, form the more pragmatic core around Bush and will dominate foreign-policy making.
Although both Cheney and Rumsfeld, through his staunch support for building a national missile defense (NMD) system, have strong ties with the more right-wing elements in the party, the same group -- all Washington insiders -- is probably most able to forge coalitions with Democrats in Congress.
The more ideological appointments -- notably the secretaries-designate of the Justice, Interior, Energy and Labor departments -- could make bipartisanship much more difficult by polarizing debate on key issues which affect core Democratic constituencies, especially affirmative-action programs for women and minorities, civil and women's rights, the environment, and union organizing.
The nomination of former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney-general has been particularly galling to Democrats. Ashcroft, who lost his re-election bid in November despite running against a man who was killed in an airplane crash three weeks before the election, has long been a champion of the Christian Right and bitter foe of affirmative-action programs to give minorities greater opportunity in education and employment.
"Given the Florida recount, the Ashcroft nomination is just breathtaking," one prominent political analyst told the Washington Post last week.
choice of Gale Norton as Interior Secretary -- a post which controls the use of vast government-owned lands in the West -- has stung environmentalists who note her long-standing ties to the "Wise Use" movement, a corporate-funded grouping some of whose more-extreme followers have used violence to protest Washington's efforts to impose restrictions on the use of federal lands for mining, oil exploration, and cattle-grazing.
A protegee of the widely-hated James Watt, Ronald Reagan's interior secretary, Norton could "become the lightning rod and thus chief fund-raiser for the environment movement," said one Congressional aide. "Our view is that this is James Watt in a skirt," noted a spokesman for the Sierra Club.
A major fear is that Norton will work closely with Energy Secretary-designate Spencer Abraham, who also was defeated for re-election to the Senate last November, to open environmentally sensitive government-owned territory along the Pacific Coast and in Alaska to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Abraham is closely tied to the automobile industry and a staunch advocate of gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicles (SUVs), a major target of consumer and environmental activists. Together, Norton and Abraham could make it very difficult for Bush's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, to be heard on key issues affecting their jurisdictions.
The fourth right-winger in the group, Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez, is also likely to raise the hackles of a resurgent labor movement which has grown steadily more militant over the last several years, a process which is likely to accelerate under a Republican administration.
Chavez, who worked as civil rights commissioner under Reagan and worked with ret. Lieut. Col. Oliver North to promote public support for the Nicaraguan contras at the White House, has been outspoken in her criticism of affirmative action and of increasing the minimum wage.
Calling it an "insult to American working men and women," John Sweeney, the head of the largest U.S. labor confederation, the AFL-CIO, said he was "extremely disappointed and disturbed" by Chavez' nomination.
Not all the top posts have been filled yet. Washington insiders are still eagerly awaiting Bush's picks for U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), UN Ambassador, and director of central intelligence (DCI) -- all of which have held cabinet rank.
The betting for USTR is for someone closely identified with the corporate wing of the party. That sector currently is represented by Rumsfeld, O'Neill, and Cheney, who served as the CEOs of a major U.S. pharmaceutical firm, its biggest aluminum company, and a major oil-and-gas supply company, respectively.
Another powerful member of the Cabinet, OMB director-designate Mitchell Daniels Jr. was head of the Eli Lilly & Co. pharmaceutical company as well, while Agriculture Secretary-designate Ann Veneman is a long-time champion of U.S. agribusiness. The most likely nominees are Robert Zoellick, a top aide to former Secretary of State James Baker, or Richard Parsons, former president of Time Warner.
Bush will win points with Democrats if he decides to retain George Tenet as DCI appoints former Rep. Lee Hamilton as his ambassador to the United Nations. Hamilton would then join Transportation Secretary-designate Norman Mineta as the top Democrats in his administration.
A more ideological appointment to the UN post would be John Bolton, who held senior State Department positions under Reagan and Bush's father. The right-wing Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute are reportedly lobbying hard for Bolton, a career right-winger who has been among the foremost and most vociferous critics of the world body. Powell, however, is reported to oppose his nomination. <
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