LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — President-elect Bill Clinton completed his final Cabinet selections Wednesday night and prepared to announce them today--choosing Zoe Baird, the general counsel of Aetna Life & Casualty Co., as the nation's first female attorney general and tapping Mickey Kantor, his campaign chairman and a prominent Los Angeles lawyer, as U.S. trade representative, transition officials said.
In addition, Clinton asked Bruce Babbitt, the former governor of Arizona, to be secretary of the Interior; Federico Pena, the former mayor of Denver, to be transportation secretary; Rep. Mike Espy (D-Miss.) to be agriculture secretary, and John Gibbons, the head of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, to be White House science adviser.
Officials also indicated that Clinton plans to formally announce the already widely publicized selection of Joycelyn Elders, head of Arkansas' health department, to be surgeon general.
The moves came Wednesday night after a long day of what one top aide described as "juggling" of names and positions that would appear to fulfill Clinton's desire for a Cabinet marked by diversity.
Espy's appointment would give the Cabinet four black members, more than ever before, while Pena would be the second Latino. Baird would be the second woman named to head a Cabinet department, but Clinton has designated two other women to sit in the Cabinet--Carol Browner, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Madeleine Albright, ambassador to the United Nations.
Baird, 40, is a little-known attorney with a background in public and private life.
A policy adviser to Clinton during the campaign, primarily on health care issues, she previously served in the Justice Department and the White House under Jimmy Carter, working as a staff attorney in the department's Office of Legal Counsel and then in the White House counsel's office. Later, she worked in Washington for the Los Angeles-based law firm, O'Melveny & Myers. At the time, Clinton transition director Warren Christopher was the firm's managing partner.
As head of Aetna's legal department, she was one of the first women to be general counsel to a Fortune 500 corporation. Before moving to Aetna, she also worked as a senior lawyer for General Electric Co. Baird is a native of New York City who received her law degree from UC Berkeley.
Baird prevailed over Washington attorney Brooksley E. Born, whom Clinton aides had believed would get the job.
Several of Clinton's other picks also came as surprises, in some cases even to the nominees. Babbitt, for example, had been under consideration for Interior for some time, but had told Clinton he would prefer the trade representative's job. Until late Wednesday, he still thought that was the post he would receive, sources who talked with him said.
Similarly, close associates of Baird knew she was under consideration for a senior post because she had interviewed with Clinton recently. But they believed the job Clinton had in mind was White House counsel.
And Pena, who has headed the transportation section of Clinton's transition operation, had told friends in recent days that he did not intend to take a Cabinet post. Associates of Pena had believed that Chicago banker and political strategist William Daley had the transportation job locked up.
The choice of Pena came after Clinton decided against naming Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) to the Interior job. Latino groups had campaigned heavily for a second Latino Cabinet member and Richardson had seemed the most likely choice in their eyes, leading them to mount a heavy push for him in the last several days.
But environmentalists, who had supported Babbitt for the Interior job, strongly opposed Richardson, fearing he would be too weak to stand up to the powerful ranching, mining and development interests that have prospered under the Interior Department policies of the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations. Environmental leaders, speaking Wednesday to transition chairman Vernon E. Jordan Jr., made a strong case against Richardson. Vice President-elect Al Gore reportedly also weighed in against the selection.
By passing over Richardson and choosing Babbitt and Pena, Clinton managed to make both the Latino groups and environmentalists happy. He also opened the way for putting his longtime friend and political adviser, Kantor, in the trade representative's job, which Kantor had sought.
Because neither Baird nor Born had much experience in criminal law, Clinton aides have been searching for a lawyer with a strong background in that area to serve as either deputy or associate attorney general--the department's No. 2 and No. 3 jobs. Sources said Norman Early, the former district attorney of Denver, has emerged as a strong candidate for that role.
Early became Colorado's first black district attorney in 1983 when Gov. Richard D. Lamm appointed him to fill a vacancy. He was then elected in 1984 and served until 1991 when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor.