Cover Story


"TeamBush" Continued...

Issue: "Ashcroft: Under fire," Jan. 13, 2001

Just three weeks after officially becoming president-elect, George W. Bush has managed to fill out his Cabinet, winning grudging respect from Washington pros accustomed to a selection process that typically drags on for months. The mainstream press, meanwhile, is according its own share of grudging respect to the new president. Pundits and reporters are wowed less by the speed of the process than by its sweep. CNN, noting that the new Cabinet boasts "two African-Americans, one Asian-American, one Arab-American, two Hispanics, four women, and one Democrat," concluded that Mr. Bush had assembled "a slice of America." And the liberal Scripps-Howard News Service had to admit that the new administration could boast "the most ethnically representative Cabinet ever." Though evangelical Christians seldom make anyone's list of downtrodden minorities, they too got a "representative" very near the top of the Bush Cabinet. But conservatives-Christian and otherwise-had more than just John Ashcroft to cheer about. The new Cabinet contains as many social conservatives as any in memory, and the more liberal members are, for the most part, safely tucked away in positions that offer little opportunity to influence social policy. Besides Mr. Ashcroft, the most thorough, all-around conservatives are probably Spencer Abraham (Energy), Linda Chavez (Labor), Mel Martinez (Housing and Urban Development), and Tommy Thompson (Health and Human Services). In domestic-issues Cabinet meetings, those five should be able to more than hold their own against three members thought to be more socially liberal: Norman Mineta (Transportation), Gale Norton (Interior), and Christine Todd Whitman (EPA). The social views of two other appointees-Rod Paige at Education and Ann Veneman at Agriculture-are largely unknown. In a Bush administration, the Cabinet balance could prove crucial. Observers expect the new president to act as a CEO, allowing his advisers to debate the pros and cons of an issue before he personally decides which position will prevail. Thus, a token conservative-even in a high-profile position like attorney general-would be largely ineffective in a majority-moderate Cabinet. Instead, just the opposite appears true: The advice of outspoken social liberals like Ms. Whitman will likely be drowned out by a core group of passionate conservatives. Of those conservatives, Mr. Thompson at HHS will have the most direct impact on cultural issues. The department's $423 billion annual budget includes such perennially controversial areas as the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start. Mr. Thompson, a dedicated pro-lifer, will have ample opportunity to advance his beliefs. He could, for instance, limit or ban the abortion pill RU-486, develop more widespread abstinence education programs, and guard against Medicaid-funded abortions. That prospect, understandably, has the abortion industry on red alert. "In selecting Gov. Thompson to head HHS, President Bush has chosen one of this nation's staunchest opponents of a woman's right to choose to head the agency with the greatest impact on women's health," fumed Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. Ms. Whitman, the former New Jersey governor, is, in many ways, Mr. Thompson's polar opposite. A staunch abortion defender who went so far as to veto a state law banning the grisly partial-birth procedure, she was frequently mentioned for a number of top administration posts, including vice president. Instead, Mr. Bush relegated her to the EPA, where her impact on the abortion issue will be close to zero. "He took note of what people's area of authority would be, and really matched them up carefully," said Marty Dannenfelser, vice president for public affairs at the Family Research Council. "Christie Whitman is not someone we were happy about, but it doesn't appear that she'll have a lot of impact on the issues we care about." Indeed, even the president's more socially liberal picks appear to be conservative in the areas over which they'll have jurisdiction. Ms. Whitman has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who criticize her efforts to free New Jersey businesses from a crush of environmental regulations. Ditto Ms. Norton at Interior, a protégé of former secretary James Watt and an advocate of more efficient uses of public lands. Even the new president's No. 1 cabinet pick, Colin Powell as secretary of state, gets generally good marks from conservatives. "There are people who tend to see Colin Powell as a moderate Republican," acknowledged Al Felzenberg, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "But if I were Saddam Hussein, I would not be happy seeing Colin Powell back again. I would not be sitting in Baghdad going, 'How does Colin Powell feel about abortion?'"


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