Bush Cabinet is Set for Second Term

President Bush nominated Jim Nicholson, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a former Republican Party chairman, to head the Veterans Affairs department today.

The White House also announced that the secretaries of Labor, Interior, Transportation and Housing have agreed to stay on.

The latest round of personnel announcements leaves unfilled only a few top White House and administration jobs as Bush prepares for a second term. Among them are a United Nations ambassador and the secretaries of Energy and Health and Human Services.

To date, 13 of the 15 Cabinet secretaries in a second term are known. But the president also has not said who would be his domestic policy advisor and deputy national security advisor.

Bush announced Nicholson's appointment, but he left it to White House press secretary Scott McClellan to disclose that the president has spoken with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, and that they all agreed to continue serving.

On Wednesday, the White House announced that Treasury Secretary John Snow also would stay on, ending nearly two weeks of speculation that Bush wanted a new Treasury secretary.

Nicholson, like his predecessor Anthony J. Principi, was a decorated Vietnam veteran. And like several other designated members of Bush's second-term cabinet, he has an up-by-the-bootstraps background.

Nicholson, 66, is the son of tenant farmers in Struble, Iowa. A graduate of West Point, he served eight years as an Army Ranger and paratrooper, eventually retiring as a colonel after 22 years in the Army reserves. He holds a master's degree in public policy from Columbia University and a law degree from the University of Denver.

After practicing law in Colorado, Nicholson became a residential developer there. He was named RNC chairman in 1997 and led the party when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the presidency three years later. Bush named him ambassador to the Vatican in August 2001.

In a brief White House ceremony, the president called Nicholson "a man of deep conviction who has answered is country's call many times." At the Vatican, Bush added, "Jim has worked with the Vatican to advance many vital foreign policy goals, including fighting poverty, hunger, AIDS, expanding religious liberty around the world, and ending the brutal practice of human trafficking."

If confirmed by the Senate, Nicholson would head an agency with 230,000 employees that serves 25 million American veterans, 75% of whom having served during wartime.

Nicholson said it would be "a singular honor" to serve in Bush's Cabinet and said he was "eager for the work ahead."

The leading candidate to succeed HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson is believed to be Medicare chief Mark McClellan, who was previously commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and Bush's chief health care policy advisor.

Among those mentioned as a successor to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham are Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute; Kyle McSlarrow, the deputy energy secretary; former Sen. Bennett Johnson (D-La.); retiring Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.).