First day at work

The Washington Post

Freed from the impasse that ate up nearly half his transition time, President-elect George W. Bush launched overtures Thursday to Democratic prospects for his Cabinet as he began the delicate mission of building a bipartisan administration while satisfying restless conservatives.

Bush plans to have lunch in Texas today with Sen. John Breaux, D-La., a potential energy secretary, who is the most prominent Democrat he has publicly courted. Bush has promised a diverse administration that will include Democrats, but Republicans have been out of the White House for eight years and some influential party activists are reluctant to yield many slots to the other side. Already, several well-known Republicans have begun raising money for a public relations campaign to keep pressure on Bush to pursue a conservative agenda.

The Texas governor is scheduled to spend Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where he will pay separate visits to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, as well as interview potential Cabinet members. Advisers said that within a week, they expect Bush to make official the worst-kept secret of the nascent administration by designating retired Army Gen. Colin Powell as his secretary of state.

The leaks, visits and announcements are all part of a carefully planned effort by Bush to unify the “house divided” that he acknowledged in his address to the nation Wednesday night, less than an hour after Gore gave up his court fight for the White House.

In an unusual move on a president-elect’s first full day, Bush remained largely out of the public eye and did not hold the traditional victory news conference.

Aides had long spoken of Bush playing a much more visible and commanding role after his election became official. But after a morning prayer service, he spent the day in the Texas governor’s mansion in Austin. Bush skipped a planned trip to his campaign headquarters and didn’t do his usual workout, an aide said.

Instead, he received his presidential protection detail from the Secret Service and had an armored presidential limousine delivered to his driveway. Aides started filling out security clearance forms and getting a government ethics briefing from a Bush lawyer.

Bush made no announcements or appointments Thursday, and aides said he has no plans to do so toFday. Aides said Bush is unlikely to say anything about appointments before a possible announcement Saturday from his ranch near Crawford, Texas.

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