Breaux not part of Bush Cabinet

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 15, 2000

The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas – President-elect Bush will name retired Gen. Colin Powell as his secretary of state today, making the popular Gulf War hero his first Cabinet choice.

”I think America will be pleased,” Bush told reporters during a picture-taking session, hinting playfully at a Powell announcement but stopping short of actually making it a day early. However, other Republicans confirmed the selection and Bush aides on Friday notified members of Congress about the upcoming announcement.

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One individual who won’t be in Bush’s Cabinet: moderate Sen. John Breaux, D-La. Reaching across party lines, Bush invited Breaux to Austin for lunch on Friday. Breaux had been widely rumored as a possible Bush Cabinet choice, perhaps energy secretary.

Bush would not say if he had made a specific job offer to Breaux, but told reporters the Democrat did not want to leave the divided chamber, which will be on a 50-50 knife edge beginning in January. ”He wants to stay in the Senate and to work to get something done,” Bush said, the two men sitting before a crackling fire at the Texas governor’s mansion.

For his part, Breaux said, ”I think we certainly share the concept that we have to build coalitions.”

Bush aides said that Powell would be Bush’s sole announcement of the day, signifying the importance he places on the position and the man, Bush aides said. The event will be held at a high school in Crawford, Texas, near Bush’s ranch, about a two-hour drive north of here.

Bush was to follow it by announcing his White House staff in Austin on Sunday, including Stanford University administrator Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser, GOP officials said. He will then begin a three-day visit to Washington, D.C.

Bush also turned reflective on his gaining the keys to the White House after a divisive five-week legal struggle over who won Florida’s 25 electoral votes, and thus the presidency, on Nov. 7. He said the full impact of his winning didn’t hit home until he started getting congratulatory phone calls from foreign leaders on Thursday.

”I am so grateful and humbled by the opportunity” to serve, Bush said in his first exchange with reporters since becoming president-elect. Of Al Gore’s concession speech Wednesday night, Bush said, ”I thought he gave a really good speech. He set the tone for what I thought was an important night for America. And I let others judge the quality of my speech.”

It has been known for months that Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1989-1993 administration of Bush’s father, was Bush’s top choice for secretary of state, and Bush frequently alluded to it on the campaign trail.

Today, Bush will make it official. Asked directly about Powell, Bush told reporters: ”I would hope people would give me the benefit of allowing me to name the person on our own timetable. And so, I would ask that the folks wait until tomorrow.”

”I look forward to making the announcement tomorrow and I hope you come,” he told reporters.

Powell, 63, will travel to Texas from Washington with Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, aides to both Bush and Powell confirmed.

Powell is a popular figure and many Republicans had wanted him to run for the White House.

He is also arguably the one Bush nomination most palatable to Democrats. Those in both parties have predicted his confirmation by the Senate would be fast and overwhelming.

Bush said that ”over the course of the next couple of weeks” he hoped to get the rest of his Cabinet named. Also, Bush indicated he had ”assembled a White House staff that is a group of extraordinary Americans who have agreed to serve the country.”

He was expected to name his White House staff on Sunday.

Among them will be a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, Al Gonzales, as Bush’s White House counsel, officials close to the process said.

Gonzales has told court associates that he had been offered the job of White House counsel and had accepted it, those GOP officials said Friday.

”I’ve had discussions with the Governor about working in Washington but any final decision and any announcement of that decision will have to come from him,” said Gonzales, who wouldn’t confirm he got the job.

Gonzales, 45, was the second Hispanic to serve on the Texas Supreme Court. Before Bush appointed him to the high court, he served as secretary of state and as the Texas governor’s staff general counsel.

Andrew Card has already been announced as Bush’s chief of staff.

The rest of Bush’s White House staff was expected to include: Rice as national security adviser; Karen Hughes as a senior adviser and communications director; Josh Bolton, policy director; and Ari Fleischer, chief spokesman. Each worked on the campaign.

The list may also include Lawrence Lindsey as Clinton’s chief economist, although some question about his exact title remained.

Bush, after meeting with Breaux, said it was important to have him in the Senate because he could help build coalitions. He called Breaux, who is known for his work on Medicare reform, a Democrat he could work with.

Asked whether he had other Democrats in mind for his administration, Bush said, ”I’m thinking about a variety of folks to serve in the Cabinet.”

Bush said he had seen reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert called the Texas governor’s $1.3 trillion tax cut proposal too large, but, ”I look forward to going to Washington to make the case” for it.

Meanwhile, Bush said he was concerned about a slowdown in the American economy, citing a sluggish ”manufacturing base,” high energy prices and slacking demand for automobiles.

Asked about Cheney’s recent comment that the U.S. economy may be on ”the front edge of a recession,” Bush said: ”I think Vice President-elect Cheney was right in echoing concerns, my concerns, about a possible slowdown and that’s one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about the need to reduce the marginal rates in our tax cuts.”

EDITORS: Associated Press Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin contributed to this report.