- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

A day after the abrupt withdrawal of his first choice to become Labor secretary, George W. Bush yesterday interviewed Eloise Anderson, a black opponent of racial quotas, for the post.
It was the second time Mr. Bush had interviewed Mrs. Anderson, who served under Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, another popular conservative whom Mr. Bush nominated last week to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Top Bush officials said Mrs. Anderson is a leading candidate for the job, perhaps even the front-runner. Republicans also mentioned for the post include Elaine L. Chao, former deputy transportation secretary and wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican; Stephen Goldsmith, former Indianapolis mayor; former Rep. James M. Talent, just defeated for Missouri governor; and Stephen Perry, an executive of Timken Co., an Ohio steel company.
Mrs. Anderson was welfare director when Pete Wilson was the Republican governor of California, and worked to dismantle the state's welfare system. Before that, Mrs. Anderson, originally from Toledo, Ohio, held the same post in the administration of Mr. Thompson, himself a pioneer in welfare reform.
The Bush transition team has been under pressure to find a replacement for Linda Chavez as quickly as possible. She decided to withdraw after ABC News reported that an illegal immigrant had lived in her home in the early 1990s. Mrs. Chavez denied she had ever employed the woman, a Guatemalan refugee who later married a U.S. citizen.
But the withdrawal came only two days after the story broke and weeks before the Senate would have held confirmation hearings on her appointment.
Liberal groups who opposed Mrs. Chavez and some conservative leaders saw in the abruptness of her withdrawal a sign that Mr. Bush had blinked early in the face of liberal opposition to her. They think he might be unwilling to fight to the end for other appointees who come under intense fire from the left such as John Ashcroft for attorney general and Gale A. Norton for interior secretary.
"It does free up resources of some organizations on our side that can now concentrate their time and effort against Ashcroft," Ralph Neas, head of the liberal lobbying organization People for the American Way, told The Washington Times.
"We would have opposed Linda's confirmation, but my energies are focused on defeating Ashcroft," Mr. Neas added.
Conservatives voiced their own concerns.
"It looks the way my cabdriver put it today that the Bush campaign must have told her to pull out," said Hugh Greentree, director of special programs for the Christian Coalition. "I don't believe it, but it certainly does seem the conventional wisdom is that Bush forced her out."
But from the day the news about her former house guest broke, it was Mrs. Chavez who told her confirmation advisers that she wanted to withdraw her name. She said a protracted battle over her confirmation ultimately wouldn't be worth the agony for her or her family.
Bush transition officials in fact said privately on Sunday that they had talked Mrs. Chavez out of withdrawing and expected to mount a fight to support her even after they had learned of discrepancies in the vetting process.
"I would have asked her to hang around for at least a few more days to deflect some of the heat from the other nominees, but she had made up her mind," a Republican close to the transition process confided.
"Some conservatives are concerned that the Bush team jettisoned her too quickly," said Connie Mackey, federal relations director for the Family Research Council. "That's a problem because it makes it appear the Bush people weren't loyal to their appointee. And the longer she stayed as nominee, the more she deflected shots away from Ashcroft and Norton and to her.
"But I think the liberals would read too much into this at their own peril if they think the Bush team pulled the trigger too soon because they are weak," she said.
In withdrawing her bid to become labor secretary, Mrs. Chavez admitted she should have been more forthcoming.
"Did I make a mistake? Absolutely," she said. "I made the mistake of not thinking through that this might be misinterpreted and coming forward with it at the first available opportunity."
The Bush team defended its background investigation process.
"Well, it's always an ongoing process with the vetting, and you rely on the information you are provided and you do your thorough best at each and every step along the way to gather new information," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "As the new information comes in, you evaluate it. And we believe the system we have in place is working and it's going to continue to work well."
The counter-strategy of conservative groups is to keep up the defense of Mrs. Chavez on their various Web sites.
"Chavez's withdrawal turns up the volume," said Grover Norquist, head of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform. "The left is encouraged to think that we might blink in the future, but because of that, conservatives are redoubling their effort to support Ashcroft and the other conservative nominees."
"From all the evidence, it appears that Bush did not cave or abandon his nominee," said American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene. "The problem is that the left and some on the right think that he did. From the left's perspective, they think they have caught the new president and it will encourage them to fight even harder to try to bring down Ashcroft and Norton.
"From the right's viewpoint, it means some activists will be nervous, thinking we might abandon them," Mr. Keene said.
Several conservative activists agreed that the biggest problem may be some senators who believe that if Mr. Bush abandons his nominees even before they come to a vote, they can oppose them more easily.
The left, in its various planning meetings, already is claiming that it has the vote of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and is close to getting other centrist Republicans to vote against Mr. Ashcroft.
However, Mr. Specter has been out of the country and there is no evidence that he will vote against Mr. Ashcroft.
Sean Scully contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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