Cabinet Hearings Begin

bush campaign chairman don evans nominated to be treasury secretary
AP (file)
Commerce Secretary-designate Donald Evans was received warmly Thursday at the first Senate hearing on one of President-elect Bush's Cabinet nominees.

But there were signs that at least three of his nominees - John Ashcroft as attorney general, Gale Norton at Interior and Linda Chavez at Labor - will face sharp questioning from liberal Democrats who consider their views at odds with the missions of the departments Bush wants them to head.

Bush also announced Thursday that two close friends from Texas, Joe Allbaugh and Karl Rove, would be joining his administration. Allbaugh, who managed Bush's presidential campaign, will head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the department that responds to natural disasters and other domestic crises.

Rove, the campaign's senior political strategist, will serve as a senior White House adviser.

Bush picked the third member of his so-called "Iron Triangle" of Texas advisers, Karen Hughes, as White House counselor shortly after the hotly contested election.

Evans, another old Bush friend, received a cordial welcome at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, which was chaired by Sen. Fritz Hollings in recognition of the Democrats' brief control of the Senate until Dick Cheney becomes vice president and can break the 50-50 tie in favor of the Republicans.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee expressed confidence that Evans, a Texas oilman who served as Bush's campaign chairman, would be easily confirmed.

"The mood of the committee was pretty clear," committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters after the hearing.

McCain said he expected Evans to win overwhelming support from the Commerce Committee and full Senate.

Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia told Evans, "I look forward to supporting your nomination with a lot of enthusiasm."

In his testimony to the committee, Evans pledged to "foster a marketplace where ideas and energy can thrive, where the entrepreneurial spirit indeed will flourish."

"I must say that when I worked as a roughneck on drilling rigs some 30 years ago, I never expected to be nominated to become secretary of the cabinet agency charged with promoting the nation's business," said Evans, who raised a record $100 million for Bush's presidential campaign.

McCain, who lost to Bush last year in the Republican primaries and who has been a top supporter of campaign finance reform, cautioned Evans that he needed to be careful to keep the Commerce agency above political pressures.

He said it was important that Evans avoid the types of allegations raised early in the Clinton administration when the late Ron Brown was secretary that seats on foreign trade missions had been "sold to major donors and that Commerce Department officials were directly involved in political fundraising."

Ashcroft, Bush's most controversial pick, received a warm reception on ednesday from Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who predicted his panel would end up backing Ashcroft unanimously.

Ashcroft, a senator defeated for re-election in November, is expected to face tough questioning from Democrats for his anti-abortion views and for engineering the defeat of Ronnie White, a black judge from Missouri who was nominated for the federal bench.

Chavez has been criticized for her views on minority hiring practices and Norton has raised the ire of environmental groups over her views on promoting energy development on federal lands.

Other Cabinet nominees making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week include Treasury Secretary-designate Paul O'Neill; Ann Veneman, Bush's choice to run the Agriculture Department; Defense Secretary-designate Donald Rumsfeld and Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

In other transition news, advisers said Bush would ask FBI Director Louis Freeh to finish the last two years of his term and may seek a brief extension for CIA Director George Tenet.

Freeh is in the eighth year of a 10-year term given to him by President Clinton, but the two have often clashed; Bush advisers have told Freeh they want him to stay. The CIA director, though not a permanent fixture in the Cabinet, is nonetheless an important part of a president's foreign policy team.

A number of Democrats and Republicans have urged Bush to retain Tenet in an effort to take the spy agency out of the political cycle. Bush's father, former President Bush, once headed the CIA and has called for a less-political approach.

The president-elect has already dipped into Clinton's administration once, nominating Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta to be his transportation secretary.

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