Cabinet Posts Near Approval

Greenpeace demonstrators Robert Lyon, left, and Craig Culp make their way down the facade of the Department of Interior in Washington after hanging a sign to protest the nomination of Gale Norton as Interior Secretary, Thursday Jan. 18, 2001, prior to her afternoon Senate confirmation hearing.
While the Ashcroft hearings continued to stir controversy, a number of other Bush Cabinet nominees faced smoother sailing Thursday on Capitol Hill.

The Foreign Relations Committee approved retired Gen. Colin Powell to be secretary of state. Quick confirmations are also expected for Spencer Abraham for energy secretary and Anthony Principi for veterans' affairs secretary.

Three more Bush picks whose nominations have been more contentious also faced questioning on Thursday: Tommy Thompson, Gale Norton and Ann Veneman. Despite some opposition, confirmation is expected for all three.

There was no debate in the Foreign Relations Committee as the nine senators recommended Powell to succeed Madeleine Albright as America's chief diplomat. Mr. Bush will likely seek swift Senate action on Powell after he is sworn in Saturday.

The Senate Energy Committee approved Abraham for the nation's top energy post. The former Michigan senator was warned by the panel about a national energy crisis that goes far beyond California's current electricity blackouts. He gave few hints about what action Mr. Bush planned to take to address the power shortage in California.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee praised Mr. Bush's pick for veterans' affairs secretary, Anthony Principi. The combat-decorated Vietnam War veteran was acting secretary during the administration of Bush's father and has the backing of veterans' organizations.

Interior secretary nominee Gayle Norton faced questions about her stand on land use issues from Democratic members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Among Mr. Bush's nominees, only Ashcroft has been more of a lightening rod for opposition than Norton. Environmental groups point to her work for a developer who successfully got government approval for a subdivision that opponents said violated county guidelines and damaged an elk habitat.

Norton told the panel she would take a balanced approach to land use, but said she would review all of Mr. Clinton's actions on federal lands, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer.

She questioned the Clinton administration's approach to protecting millions of acres of federal land, calling the decisions "top down" and made without the consultation of local people.

At his Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing, Tommy Thompson promised an immediate push to make prescription drugs part of the Medicare package, with comprehensive reform coming in its own time.

The nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services has drawn the ire of pro-choice activists for opposition to abortion rights, and has found himself at odds with some anti-abortion groups over his support for embryonic stem cell research.

But it was mostly smooth sailing for Thompson as Republicans and Democrats alike praised his record as Wisconsin governor, including his innovations in healtand welfare policy. Any fireworks could come Friday, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Thompson could face questions about his stand on RU486, the abortion pill, and whether he would allow the use of federal funds for stem cell research.

Agriculture secretary-designate Ann Veneman pledged to be a forceful advocate for farm interests but deflected most questions about specific positions on farm and food policy.

Testifying before the Senate Agriculture Committee, Veneman said farmers would need more federal aid to cope with low commodity prices and assured farm-state senators she will be an advocate for agricultural interests.

The California-born Veneman is expected to win easy confirmation, possibly as early as Saturday, despite some nervousness from farmers in the Midwest. They fear that she will lack sensitivity for the interests of family-operated Midwest farms versus the corporate operations that dominate California's agriculture industry.

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