Vice President George Bush opened his presidential transition today by designating his campaign chairman, former Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker III, to be secretary of state in the new Administration.
Appearing tired, the President-elect--admittedly feeling mixed emotions as the election results set in--also announced the team of aides that in the course of the next three months will establish his “game plan” for when he takes office.
The vice president also, in a 45-minute press conference, said he will ask Baker to begin negotiations toward a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev but he cautioned that he will move slowly until Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
“President Reagan is still the President of the United States,” he said, “and I will not be using the transition to try to make or unduly influence decisions that are properly the President’s.”
Greeted by Reagan
After the press conference, Bush flew with his entourage to Washington, where he received a tumultuous welcome and told cheering and flag-waving supporters he will continue the “good policies” of the last eight years. Bush was met by his running mate, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, for the welcome-home rally at Andrews Air Force Base. The President-elect praised Quayle as a man who was going to be a “great vice president.”
Afterward, the two flew by helicopter to the White House, where they were greeted by President Reagan.
Bush was congratulated by President Reagan, who told him that anyone who wanted to know his and his wife Nancy’s emotions should “read our smiles.”
The announcement of Baker as secretary of state-designate came as no surprise since he and Bush have been close associates for 20 years.
“He has distinguished himself in every position he’s held,” Bush said of Baker.
Bush also held open the possibility that some current Cabinet members--Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos and Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady--will be asked to stay.
Bush’s transition team will be led by his chief campaign strategist, Robert Teeter, and his chief of staff, Craig Fuller, two of the architects of his election victory.
On foreign affairs, Bush said he maintains hopes of an ambitious working relationship with the Soviet Union but he held out the chance that intransigence on the planned Soviet pullout from Afghanistan would throw a wrench into those plans.
Gorbachev today sent his congratulations to Bush and pledged his cooperation in efforts “to further development of stable and predictable relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. and to the improvement of the entire international situation.
“On its part, the Soviet Union is ready to continue and deepen mutually advantageous Soviet-American cooperation in the broadest range of issues,” Gorbachev said.
On a subject rarely mentioned during his campaign, Bush said renewed aid to the Nicaraguan Contras will be a top priority.
‘To Keep Pressure On’
“It will have a high priority because freedom and democracy in this hemisphere has a high priority,” Bush said.
“I will press to keep the pressure on the Sandinistas.”
On domestic issues, Bush repeated a campaign pledge that he will not apply a “litmus test” on abortion to Supreme Court nominees.
Bush himself appeared drawn. “I hope everyone had a good night’s sleep,” he said when greeting reporters. “I did not.”
He opened his first day as President-elect by attending a “service of Thanksgiving” in Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Family members and aides accompanied him.
Asked by reporters in the morning whether he will have problems in dealing with Congress, given the modest gains by Democrats in both houses, Bush replied: “A few problems everywhere.”
Bush convincingly defeated Dukakis with an 8-point margin in popular vote and a commanding 426-112 vote in the Electoral College.
Bush’s press conference, in the same convention center in which he claimed victory Tuesday night, was his first since Oct. 16 in Denver. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Bush kept himself far from the national press corps to avoid competing with his carefully drawn campaign message.
Throughout the long campaign, Bush steadfastly refused to detail his budget priorities, saying that he would do so only after the election.
Tuesday night in Houston, as he accepted the victory, Bush did not dwell on the specific details of his upcoming governance but instead aimed his message at unity after a fractious general campaign.