Powell is first in Bush Cabinet


Los Angeles Times

AUSTIN, Texas – President-elect George W. Bush plans to announce his first Cabinet appointment toSday: Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as secretary of state.

Bush plans to make the long-rumored announcement official at his ranch near Crawford, where he will formally introduce Powell. Upon Senate confirmation, the retired general would become the first black American to hold the nation’s top foreign policy post.

The Powell announcement is expected to be followed quickly by others, including some that Bush plans to announce Sunday in Texas before he leaves for a two-day visit to Washington, D.C., aides said.

During a brief question-and-answer session with reporters at the governor’s mansion after he had lunch with Sen. John Breaux, D-La., on Friday, Bush would not confirm the Powell appointment. But, asked about it, he said coyly, “I think Americans will be pleased.”

Hispanics likely were pleased by word of another appointment leaked Friday. Bush was reported to have chosen Texas Supreme Court Justice Al Gonzales as his White House counsel. Gonzales, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was Bush’s top legal adviser in his first term as governor and was named later by the governor to the state Supreme Court.

In the wake of the closest presidential election in a century and the only one ever contested in the courts, Bush Friday continued his high-profile outreach to Democrats.

The first elected Democratic official to visit with Bush since he became president-elect was Breaux, a centrist widely seen as a key power broker in the next Senate, divided 50-50 along party lines.

The three-term senator from Louisiana has been rumored as a candidate for a Cabinet post, but both men indicated after lunch that Breaux would remain in the Senate.

Bush is expected to announce the appointment of former Stanford provost Condoleezza Rice, a Soviet Union expert who also served in his father’s White House, as national security adviser. Rice already participates in Bush’s daily intelligence briefings here.

Rice is black. And Bush, with three minorities among his first appointments, appeared to be sending a powerful signal that he wants to reach out to groups that voted for Vice President Al Gore on Nov. 7.

As a further effort to cultivate bipartisan goodwill, Bush will meet with congressional leaders of both parties as well as with President Clinton and the vice president when he visits Washington next week.

Bush also intends to conduct job interviews for other positions in the White House and the Cabinet during the visit.

Spokesman Ari Fleischer and other Bush aides in Austin said the transition team has begun crafting a legislative agenda that Bush can present to Congress. Top priorities are improving public education and giving seniors prescription drug coverage.

The transition team also is dealing with an avalanche of resumes from job-seekers. As of midnight Thursday, more than 25,000 resumes for about 7,000 jobs had arrived, Fleischer said.

The 75 full-time transition staff members have been busy sorting through the resumes and helping prospective nominees prepare the voluminous paperwork needed to complete several layers of government background checks.

The transition staff has yet to begin working with top Clinton administration budget officials so that the Bush team can start working on the president-elect’s first budget, which is due to be submitted to Congress on the first Monday in February, Fleischer said.

He said that those conversations cannot begin until lawyers for the transition draw up and have signed memorandums of understanding required before the administration can share sensitive data with the president-elect’s team.

In his remarks in Austin, Bush also touted his campaign proposals for a $1.3 trillion tax cut. He and Cheney have called attention to signs of a softening economy in recent days as the reason for the cut.

Asked about public comments earlier this week by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., that Bush’s tax-cut proposal might be too big a bite for Congress to swallow, Bush reiterated his commitment to the 10-year, across-the-board plan.

He said that he found it “positive” that Hastert “was recognizing that we need some tax relief.”

The president-elect also expressed concern about the cost of energy. “I think all of us ought to be concerned about high energy prices. We’re seeing what the high price of natural gas is doing on the West Coast,” Bush said.

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