United States President-elect, George W. Bush, is close to finalising his choice of Cabinet nominees for his new administration which will take office on January 20. With only a couple of major positions yet to be announced, it has become apparent that the 43rd President has chosen a conservative cast of colleagues for the next four years.
All Cabinet nominees have to be approved by the Senate, in a process that will begin in the coming week. The relevant Senate committees will conduct public hearings at which the nominees will be interrogated. A full vote of the Senate follows a recommendation from a committee.
At this stage, those most likely to face a grilling and possible rejection in the confirmation process are:
- nominee for Attorney-General, Senator John Ashcroft, who lost his Missouri Senate seat last month to a dead man, Mel Carnahan. In the past Ashcroft has sought to outlaw abortion, even for victims of rape or incest. He has spearheaded opposition to judicial appointments of liberals and blacks.
- nominee for Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, the former Colorado Attorney-General, who has a long history of favouring limited regulation of land use.
These two candidates represent the most right-wing of the incoming president’s choices.
In some respects, the nominees represent a diverse range. There are two African-Americans, Colin Powell (State) and Rod Paige (Education). There are two women, Ann Veneman (Agriculture) and Gale Norton (Interior). There is a Hispanic, Mel Martinez (Housing and Urban Affairs). They represent a mix of conservative and moderate Republicanism. Powell, for example, has supported affirmative action in the past.
Other candidates are likely to face tough questioning over particular issues. For example, Health and Human Services nominee, Governor Tommy Thompson, has presided over draconian anti-abortion laws in Wisconsin. Treasury Secretary nominee, Paul O’Neill, is relatively unknown within the Washington economic establishment and is likely to be closely questioned about his attitude to a range of economic issues, particularly tax cuts and how to use the burgeoning budget surplus. Defence Secretary-designate, Donald Rumsfeld, will face scrutiny over his support for a missile defence shield program. Rumsfeld is seen by some observers as a throw-back to the Cold War era, where he also served as Defence Secretary in the Ford administration in 1975-6.
Only three Cabinet positions – Labor, Transportation and Energy – remain to be filled. These appointments are expected in the next few days. Despite promising to look for Democrats to serve in his administration, Bush has not yet chosen anyone from that side of politics.
The new Senate, which will be sworn in on January 3, will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. As Vice-President, Dick Cheney will have a casting vote. It should not be assumed that all nominees will be approved by the Senate.