Senate Gives Quick Approval to 7 Bush Cabinet Appointees


Acting just a few hours after George W. Bush was sworn in as president Saturday, the Senate gave swift assent to an unexpectedly large bloc of his Cabinet nominees, including the first black secretary of State.

The Senate’s objective, said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), was to help Bush “hit the ground running.” Roberts shepherded the nominations through on a single voice vote.

Seven nominees were confirmed, four more than had been expected only the day before. They included three key members of the nascent Bush administration: Colin L. Powell as secretary of State, Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense and Paul H. O’Neill as secretary of the Treasury.


Utility Crisis Spurs Backing of Abraham

The others winning confirmation were Ann M. Veneman, a former California agriculture chief, as Agriculture secretary; Don Evans as Commerce secretary; Rod Paige as Education secretary; and Spencer Abraham as Energy secretary.

Roberts said that Abraham was added to the group in part to help the administration quickly focus on pressing energy matters.

This week, Senate committees are expected to vote on Bush’s two most controversial Cabinet nominees: John Ashcroft for attorney general and Gale A. Norton for Interior secretary. Both are favored to win confirmation, though only after lengthy floor debates. An array of liberal interest groups opposes Ashcroft and Norton, criticizing them as conservative ideologues.

Other nominees for Cabinet-level positions are expected to breeze through the confirmation process with little or no dissent.

With the inauguration of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday, Republicans resumed control of the evenly divided Senate. Democrats had been in charge for 17 days while then-Vice President Al Gore held the chamber’s tie-breaking vote.

The confirmation of Powell as the nation’s 65th secretary of State was a milestone. The 63-year-old retired general, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the first African American to serve in the most senior Cabinet position.

Rumsfeld, 68, is returning for a second tour as Defense secretary, having served as the Pentagon’s chief under President Ford.

O’Neill, 65, is a former chairman of aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. and he also served as deputy budget director in the Ford administration. As Treasury secretary, he will wield significant influence over world markets and domestic economic policy.

Evans, 54, was national chairman of the Bush campaign and is an old friend of the new president. He shares Bush’s background as an oilman from Midland, Texas.

Veneman, 51, was a high-ranking official in the Agriculture Department under former President George Bush. She headed California’s agriculture agency under former Gov. Pete Wilson and had been practicing law in Sacramento before George W. Bush tapped her for his administration.

Paige, 67, has been superintendent of Houston’s public schools and has won wide praise for improving them.

Abraham, 48, is a former senator from Michigan who lost his reelection bid in November. In his new post, he is expected to face immediate questions about what--if any--role the federal government should play in California’s electricity crisis. So far, Bush has said that he favors a largely hands-off federal approach to the problem caused by the state’s deregulation law.

Reid Registers Lone Dissent

Abraham sparked the lone dissent among those confirmed Saturday. In a brief floor speech, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) objected that, as a senator, Abraham had supported shipments of nuclear waste to Nevada.

The Bush appointees who have undergone confirmation hearings but await full Senate votes are Mel Martinez (Housing and Urban Development), Tommy G. Thompson (Health and Human Services), Anthony J. Principi (Veterans Affairs) and Christine Todd Whitman (Environmental Protection Agency).

Senate confirmation hearings are expected this week on Transportation Secretary-designate Norman Y. Mineta (the one Democrat named to the Cabinet and a former House member from San Jose), Labor Secretary-designate Elaine Chao and Robert B. Zoellick, Bush’s choice as U.S. trade representative.