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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Bush's Personnel Picks Questioned

Transition: Some fear the Texas governor is choosing too many of his father's friends. Others say he is simply selecting those with talent and experience.

November 30, 2000|ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — With former Bush administration officials stepping into leading roles this week in organizing a potential administration for George W. Bush, the Texas governor is facing inevitable questions about the extent to which he is his own man, rather than his father's son.

Bush running mate Dick Cheney dismissed the notion Wednesday, saying that it makes sense for a Republican potential president to reach out for talent to previous GOP administrations.

"The fact of the matter is, when you put together an administration, one of the things you look for are people with experience . . . ," Cheney said. "So the suggestion that we are, quote, overreliant [on former Bush administration officials], I just don't think holds water."

But privately, Bush advisors acknowledge that the governor must be careful in the next few weeks not to draw too heavily on his father's friends.

"The first few people out there have the Bush Sr. imprimatur," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution who studies presidential transitions. "If only for that reason, I think they're going to be very cautious about what I call my-father's-Oldsmobile syndrome, the idea that this is just Bush Two, or a retread."

Since Sunday night, when Bush announced from Austin, Texas, that he would begin planning a transition, naming Cheney to head it, two former Bush administration officials have been center stage--Cheney, who was the elder Bush's secretary of Defense, and Andrew H. Card Jr., the governor's choice for chief of staff, who served as Transportation secretary. James A. Baker III, who served as the senior Bush's secretary of State, is in Florida steering the legal battles.

On Wednesday, another former Bush administration official joined the younger Bush's team--David Gribben, who was assistant secretary of Defense in charge of congressional relations under Cheney, will be director of congressional relations for the transition.

Beyond the people, the images of the nascent Bush transition in recent days have been of Cheney and other friends of Bush Sr. working diligently, while George W. Bush stays largely out of sight.

On Monday, backed by 14 American flags, Cheney took the podium in a ballroom at Washington's Ronald Reagan International Trade Center to announce that the Bush team would set up a private foundation and seek space for its own transition offices.

Two days later, it was another podium in another ballroom, this time at the Mayflower Hotel here. The number of flags was down to two. But there was a new trapping onstage--a sign on the podium saying "Bush-Cheney Transition."

In between, Cheney has been working at a furious pace out of the kitchen of his McLean, Va., home, calling potential Cabinet nominees and arranging to lease offices for the transition operation. Those offices will open today in an office building minutes from Cheney's house.

All the while, George W. Bush has been at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, away from television cameras--and potential Bush administration job seekers.

Aides said that Bush is seeking peace and quiet to muse on potential Cabinet choices. And Cheney said that he is attending to Texas state business.

"He's still the governor of Texas. He has very important responsibilities to carry out there," Cheney said.

Bush's distance from potential Cabinet nominees will decrease considerably today, at least for a few hours, when Cheney brings retired Gen. Colin L. Powell to the Bush ranch for what he called "an extended discussion of the transition."

Bush said several times during the campaign that he hopes Powell will take a post in his Cabinet, and speculation has been that he is Bush's top choice for secretary of State. But Powell is believed to be reluctant to accept a Cabinet post while the outcome of the election is in doubt.

Cheney said Tuesday that there would be no announcements of Bush Cabinet appointees this week.

When such announcements are made, former Bush administration officials are expected to be offered a number of top posts.

Condoleezza Rice, who served in the Bush administration and who is a top foreign policy advisor to George W. Bush, is the likely choice for national security advisor.

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