At first glance, George W. Bush's proposed Cabinet is a symphony of diversity. It includes three women, two African-Americans, two Hispanics, an Arab-American and an Asian-American who fulfills Bush's promise to appoint a Democrat. But most of these political musicians will be playing from the same very conservative song sheet. The themes of this production will be less government, lower taxes and a freer ride for business. And loyalty seems paramount: several nominees are Bush cronies or veterans brought back from the 1988-92 government of Bush's father.
The new U.S. Senate, which must approve the choices, is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. The latter are bitter about Bush's contested victory and want to make the confirmation process politically painful for the Republicans. Early fire focused on John Ashcroft, the pick for Attorney General. Critics wondered if this opponent of abortion can enforce U.S. laws that protect women's rights. But in the end Ashcroft, a former Republican Senator from Missouri, is not likely to be torpedoed by his old pals in the Senate. More vulnerable targets may be Gale Norton, tapped for the Interior Department, and Spencer Abraham, nominated as Energy Secretary. Their pro-development leanings alarm environmentalists.
The Senate's deliberations will be even more important than usual, since Bush is a delegator, not a micromanager. His Cabinet may wield more power than those of the recent past, and so the names and faces shown here may be worth remembering.
T H E B I G F O U R
SECRETARY OF STATE
Colin Powell, 63
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; army officer for two tours in Vietnam; later served in Washington in the Pentagon and the White House; son of Jamaican immigrants to New York City
STRENGTH Powell's wide experience in the top reaches of government and his high national popularity ratings make him the ultimate Washington power player who will not be easily thwarted
CHALLENGE Will a cautious old soldier who is gun shy from Vietnam tackle the problems of globalization? When a Thai debt crisis or African conflict calls for limited but crucial U.S action, will Powell take the plunge? Or will neo-isolationism rule?
John Ashcroft, 58
Did not win re-election as Senator from Missouri; former Governor and Attorney General of that state
STRENGTH Deeply religious and solidly conservative, he's a darling of the Republican Party's right wing, which Bush seeks to please with this appointment. Ashcroft is anti-abortion, pro-death penalty and against gun-control legislation
CHALLENGE Senate confirmation, though likely, will be a stormy affair. Civil rights leaders will attack Ashcroft for blocking the appointment of a black Missouri judge to the federal bench. Women's groups will question whether he will enforce federal laws protecting access to abortion clinics
SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
Paul O'Neill, 65
Business executive whose magic touch revitalized Alcoa, the world's largest aluminum company, boosting profits and making its stock one of the best performers in U.S. markets; former senior official in the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon, Ford and Bush Sr. administrations
STRENGTH He's a classic blue-ribbon, big-business Republican with moderate economic views and most essentially a close relationship with Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan
CHALLENGE Rebuilding a rust belt icon is not the same as calming Wall Street or charming the gnomes of Zurich. Can he cut it in global finance?
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
Donald Rumsfeld, 68
A former everything in various Republican administrations; Congressman from Illinois; White House aide to Nixon; Ambassador to nato; Chief of Staff for Ford; Secretary of Defense, 1975-77
STRENGTH It won't hurt Rumsfeld's status in yet another tour in Washington that he once hired the young Dick Cheney, who is now Vice President-elect and the chief Bush power broker
CHALLENGE A forceful and blunt supporter of a controversial proposed missile-defense shield, Rumsfeld will need every bit of his finesse to win over Congress and the public to say nothing of having to make sure the technology actually works
Linda Chavez, 53
Staff director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in the Reagan administration; daughter of an English-Irish mother and a Mexican-American father
STRENGTH Chavez is supported by business leaders who believe she will snip away at U.S. rules, such as the new guidelines on ergonomics
CHALLENGE The Labor Secretary's big problem will be working with labor. John Sweeney, head of the largest U.S. union, the afl-cio, called the Chavez nomination "extremely disappointing." Minority groups bemoan her opposition to affirmative action
HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Mel Martinez, 54
Will be first Cuban-American to hold a Cabinet position; key part of Bush's Florida presidential campaign; chief elected official of Orange County, Florida
STRENGTH In his home state he had wide support outside the Cuban community. But he played the Cuban card by taking Eliαn Gonzαlez on a tour of Walt Disney World, TV crews in tow
CHALLENGE Martinez will need all his personal charm to get Bushite support for doling out billions on public housing and low-income neighborhoods
Don Evans, 54
National chairman of the Bush campaign; chief executive of a Houston oil company
STRENGTH If White House access is the key to success, then the Commerce Department will be golden with Evans as boss. His chief qualification for the new job is that Bush fondly calls Evans "my lifelong friend"
CHALLENGE First, should he scrap a contested sampling system devised by Clinton's administration to count more poor people in the U.S. census? The Republicans say estimates are scientifically suspect
Anthony Principi, 56
In the previous Bush administration held senior positions in the Veterans' Administration; won bronze star for Vietnam service; graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy
STRENGTH He was the popular number two at the VA when the director was a mistake-prone disaster. In the top job, he will easily command the respect of veterans' organizations and congressional staffers
CHALLENGE Some under-utilized veterans' hospitals are an expensive drain on U.S. health care. Will Principi have the courage to close them?
Ann Veneman, 51
Headed Bush's campaign in California; former California agricultural director; senior official in the Department of Agriculture during the Bush I administration
STRENGTH She is an energetic peddler of U.S. agricultural products overseas and has a good reputation with consumer groups on food safety
CHALLENGE Because she's not a Midwestern farm girl with grit under her fingernails, she'll have to prove that she is not neglecting the small family farmers of Iowa when she is pushing soybean sales in Japan for American agribusiness companies
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Tommy Thompson, 59
Republican Governor of the progressive state of Wisconsin, where he pioneered several novel approaches to welfare and health care
STRENGTH His program of moving people off welfare rolls and into jobs has been adopted by Democrats, including the Clinton administration, which applied it on the federal level
CHALLENGE He'll help finalize a plan to provide prescription drugs to the elderly. It will be popular but could be a budget breaker. And if reviled health maintenance organizations don't start giving better care to their clients, Thompson will take some flak
Rod Paige, 67
Former superintendent of Houston's public school system; football coach and later a dean at Texas Southern University
STRENGTH He takes a back-to-basics approach to education and carries little political or ideological baggage. His flexible and pragmatic position on school vouchers useful in some circumstances, but no panacea explains his popularity with both teachers and parents
CHALLENGE Though the U.S. government has little control over local education, Bush pledged help for failing schools. Can Paige deliver enough from Washington to make Bush the Education President?
Spencer Abraham, 48
Beaten in November in a re-election bid for a second term as Senator from Michigan; grandson of Lebanese Christian immigrants; was the only Arab-American in the last Congress
STRENGTH It's hard to say, since he was a surprise choice, a beneficiary of Bush's generous efforts to find employment for defeated Republican Senators and bring the broadest possible ethnic diversity to the Cabinet
CHALLENGE Abraham, who has little experience in the energy field, will face rough confirmation hearings in the Senate, where he once introduced a bill to abolish get this! the Energy Department
Gale Norton, 46
Attorney General of Colorado until 1999; former junior official at the Interior Department under Reagan
STRENGTH Business, especially the oil industry, loves her. Norton was a protege of James Watt, the Reagan Interior Secretary who fought unsuccessfully to open more Alaskan wilderness to oil exploration. In Colorado she relaxed regulations on chemical weapons sites
CHALLENGE Can environmentalists, who are calling Norton "James Watt in a skirt," block her appointment in the Senate or at least stop her from unlocking federal land to developers?
Norman Mineta, 69Secretary of Commerce for President Bill Clinton; a 21-year Democratic Congressman; sent to a detention camp with his Japanese-American family during World War II
STRENGTH As former chairman of the House transportation committee, Mineta became an expert in such arcane matters as the working of air traffic control systems
CHALLENGE Will a Democrat find support and comfort in a Republican Administration? Probably. Transportation is one of the least ideological departments. But doing something about traffic jams that leave commuters screaming will be a tough task