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Bush picks Ridge, Veneman successors

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President Bush will nominate former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to become secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as early as today, Bush administration officials said last night.

In a continued administration exodus before Mr. Bush begins his second term next month, John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, yesterday announced his resignation after less than six months on the job, reportedly because he did not win the nomination to become secretary of state.

Also yesterday, the president named Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns to head the Agriculture Department to replace outgoing Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

Mr. Kerik, 49, a tough cop with a shaved head and a brusque demeanor, impressed Mr. Bush after the president dispatched him to Iraq earlier this year to oversee the training of Iraqi police forces, one Republican with ties to the White House said.

The Republican official also said that former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was the first choice to replace Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, but that he declined the position and recommended Mr. Kerik.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a frequent Bush critic, issued a statement of support for the nominee, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

"Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security. He has a strong law-enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world," Mr. Schumer said.

If approved, Mr. Kerik would oversee the department that began operations last year, combining 22 disparate federal agencies with more than 180,000 employees.

Mr. Danforth, 68, took the post as U.N. ambassador in June, after his predecessor, John D. Negroponte, was named ambassador to Iraq. Mr. Danforth had been mentioned as a successor to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, but Mr. Bush picked National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Yesterday, Mr. Danforth released his letter of resignation -- dated Nov. 22, just six days after Miss Rice was named to the State Department post. The letter stated Mr. Danforth's desire to "return to private life" after Jan. 20, when Mr. Bush will be inaugurated for his second term.

Mr. Kerik, who served in the Army military police and later worked as a private security aide to the Saudi royal family, joined the New York Police Department in 1986 and worked his way up to commissioner in 2000.

In 2001, Mr. Kerik became a national figure as he worked at Mr. Giuliani's side to coordinate the NYPD's response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Last year, he trained Iraqi police after the U.S. invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein. He also served as a senior adviser to U.S. envoy L. Paul Bremer.

Mr. Kerik has been a vocal Bush supporter, stumping hard on the campaign trail for the president's re-election.

"Kerik spent a lot of time on the campaign trail with Bush and was a real political asset," said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist.

During his announcement of Mr. Johanns as agriculture secretary yesterday in the Roosevelt Room, the president said, "Governor Johanns is a man of action and of complete integrity."

"He knows how to bring people together to achieve results. He has been a superb leader for the people of Nebraska, and I'm grateful that he's agreed to take on this important new responsibility in my Cabinet," Mr. Bush said with the governor at his side.

Mr. Johanns said in a conference call with reporters after the announcement that he was in talks with the White House for a couple of weeks and accepted Mr. Bush's offer on Wednesday.

The two-term governor said he is not taking Senate confirmation for granted and will continue to serve Nebraska throughout the process. Lt. Gov. Dave Heineman will assume the governor's duties while Mr. Johanns is in Washington for confirmation hearings.

Mr. Johanns, the son of Iowa dairy farmers, said the Cabinet post in the Agriculture Department is a "dream spot."

"It's something that I love because my roots are there -- that's where I came from," he said.

Mr. Bush said the Nebraskan will bring to the position "a lifetime of involvement in agriculture, and a long record of a faithful friend to America's farmers and ranchers."

"I know firsthand his deep commitment to a strong farm economy. He's been a leader on drought relief in Nebraska and throughout the Midwest. He's a strong proponent of alternative energy sources, such as ethanol and biodiesel. He's traveled the world to promote American farm exports," the president said.

Miss Veneman praised her prospective successor, saying he has a "distinguished" public service career and "a clear understanding of agriculture and farm policies."

The Agriculture Department estimates that in the current fiscal year, farm exports will match farm imports for the first time since the late 1950s.

Staff writers Audrey Hudson, Steve Miller and Betsy Pisik contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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