Despite the delay in staffing of some of the top positions in his new Administration, President-elect George Bush is nearly certain to choose John Tower as secretary of defense and Richard G. Darman as his budget director, a senior-level member of the President-elect’s team said Saturday.
In addition, Dick Thornburgh now appears more than likely to retain his position as attorney general, and Lauro F. Cavazos is likely to be held over as secretary of education, despite suggestions earlier that each might be replaced, according to the well-placed source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, the source cautioned that while each was the odds-on favorite, “that doesn’t equate to a guarantee.”
His assessment was supported, with varying degrees of certainty, by others close to Bush who are working on the effort to assemble the new Administration.
Tower, a former Republican senator from Texas who was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and then served as a member of the Reagan Administration’s arms negotiations team, conferred Saturday afternoon with some of the President-elect’s senior advisers, including James A. Baker III, Robert Teeter and the newly appointed White House chief of staff, John H. Sununu, transition sources said.
The report on Tower, Darman and Thornburgh appeared to clear up lingering questions about three of the central positions in the new government. Reports had begun to circulate at the end of the week that each was facing some resistance.
In addition, the delay in announcing their roles in the Bush Administration suggested that the President-elect was having second thoughts. Tower’s aides had made known their irritation that he was “left twisting in the wind,” in the words of one of them, as his foes floated rumors about his personal life and raised questions about his qualifications for the Pentagon job.
Cavazos, former president of Texas Tech University who moved into his Cabinet post Sept. 20, was said to have run into opposition because he had been reluctant to take an active role in Bush’s campaign for the presidency. But the sources close to Bush said Saturday that they believed questions about him had been resolved. His appointment takes on a particular sensitivity because it would make good on a campaign pledge by the President-elect to place a Latino in his Cabinet.
The senior-level Bush adviser called the situations of Tower, Darman, Thornburgh and Cavazos similar, and said that Darman was “the favored candidate, but not the only candidate,” to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Darman is a former deputy Treasury secretary and assistant to President Reagan, and he is close to Baker, Bush’s confidant and his choice for secretary of state. In his only other Cabinet announcement, Bush said last week that Nicholas F. Brady would remain as Treasury secretary.
Darman, the Bush adviser said, is “probably the place to put your money.” He would not list the other candidates.
Tower, he said, was in “the same category.”
“Tower’s the odds-on favorite, but that doesn’t equate to a guarantee,” he said.
He said there was a “high likelihood” that Thornburgh would be asked to remain as attorney general, a position he has held since Aug. 12, when he replaced Edwin Meese III.
Another source close to Bush who is working on the transition predicted that “you might see something early next week, before Thanksgiving,” in terms of additional personnel announcements.
But, he said, Bush was in no hurry.
“He’s not rushing some things and he’s allowing an opportunity for some public focus” on the potential Cabinet nominees.
“As he’s making his mind up for certain, he’s going out and announcing things. When he gets a Cabinet officer definite in his mind, he’s going to go out and announce that,” this transition adviser said.
In another personnel development, Charles Imbrecht, head of the California Energy Commission, said he met here Friday with members of the Bush transition team. No job was offered, he said, but he expressed interest in a major post. Imbrecht and former Deputy Energy Secretary William Martin were said by participants in an energy conference in Leesburg, Va., to be on a “short list” of candidates for the job of energy secretary.
Meanwhile, Sununu, whose third term as governor of New Hampshire ends in January, suggested in a telephone interview with The Times that he would generally steer clear of national security operations at the White House, deferring to what he said was Bush’s expertise in this arena.
“The world’s expert on how that ought to work is George Bush,” Sununu said.
Bush served as director of central intelligence in the Gerald R. Ford Administration, and, before that, as the U.S. envoy to China and as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In addition, he attended meetings of the National Security Council for the last eight years--although he has been criticized for failing to block the shipment of arms to Iran in what became the Iran-Contra scandal--and has received daily national security briefings as vice president.
In the national security field, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft has been frequently mentioned as a likely candidate to fill the post of assistant to the President for national security affairs, a job he held during the Ford Administration. The job, always sensitive, may be particularly so in a Bush Administration if Tower, a strong-willed advocate of increased military spending, heads the Pentagon while Baker, a politician with a reputation for favoring pragmatic approaches, directs U.S. foreign policy from the State Department.
Sees Active Role
Sununu said he envisions an active role for himself in the White House’s dealings with Congress, but Bush “is going to go up there and work in a person-to-person way.”
“He’s got a lot of personal relationships in Congress that are a significant advantage,” Sununu said.
Asked why he felt he was chosen for the crucial job, Sununu said:
“I think George Bush had a feeling here was somebody who made things work. Governors have to deal with legislatures on a direct basis, and governors have a lot more dealing with Congress than some give us credit for.”
In addition, he said he and Bush had “common agendas” and “he trusts me.”
Sununu said that since being named White House chief of staff on Thursday, he has begun to look at the way the White House works. He said he had not had any detailed discussions with Bush about his role.
He has spoken briefly with the current White House staff chief, Kenneth M. Duberstein, with Duberstein’s predecessor, Howard H. Baker Jr., and with Reagan’s first staff chief, James Baker. In addition, he said he hoped to talk with Donald T. Regan, who served in that office during the Iran-Contra affair, and with Jack H. Watson Jr., Jimmy Carter’s second chief of staff.
No Answers Yet
His goal, he said, is “to find out how things operate, to find out what kind of procedures do you have in place when things get really tough. I don’t have any answers yet. What I’m trying to do is develop the right questions.”
Regan was criticized for maintaining too much control over who the President saw each day, and Bush has developed a reputation as being an executive who thrives on contact with a variety of people who present differing views.
Asked how open the door to the Oval Office would be, Sununu said: “That’s to be dictated by the President. He’s got to feel he’s getting enough information, but not being overwhelmed.
“I have a style and the vice president has a style. Both of us have styles different from our predecessors. We just have to evolve. I’m looking at all the structures,” he said.
Just how it will evolve, he admitted, was less than certain, joking: “When you find out, call me.”
Staff writer Donald Woutat contributed to this story.