- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

Nearly half of President-elect George W. Bush's Cabinet nominees were cruising easily through their Senate confirmation hearings yesterday, winning bipartisan support and in some instances signaling early action on policy changes.

Moving swiftly to act on Mr. Bush's nominees to run the government's major departments as he prepared to take the oath of office Saturday, Senate committees simultaneously held hearings throughout the day. The heavy, accelerated-hearing schedule forced some senators to race back and forth between panels to question the nominees and hear their testimonies.

Most of the nominees on Capitol Hill yesterday, with the exception of former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft's nomination to be attorney general, were receiving little opposition from Democrats. Senate officials said that Mr. Bush's "big three" to head the departments of state, defense and treasury would likely be confirmed shortly after he takes office Saturday, along with possibly several other nominees.

"Bush's picks are sailing through because competence and good conservative principles are the future of his administration," said Scott Reed, a Republican campaign strategist.

"The big three, and possibly more, will be approved early and Bush will be well on his way to promoting his agenda," Mr. Reed said.

It was almost a love fest at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where Colin Powell, nominated to be secretary of state, was promoting Mr. Bush's proposal to develop an anti-missile system as soon as possible.

Mr. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Mr. Bush would move quickly on an anti-missile system, which was a major item in his campaign agenda.

At the Senate Finance Committee, Treasury Secretary-designee Paul O'Neill was stressing the need to maintain a strong dollar and said that Mr. Bush would send a new tax-cut plan to Congress within six weeks a plan that Republicans feel is necessary to bolster a weakening economy.

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, also underwent generally friendly questioning yesterday at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Environmentalists have been critical of her policies as governor but she was expected to receive little or no opposition.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, in line to become defense secretary, has already testified and will be confirmed on Saturday along with Mr. Powell and Mr. O'Neill, Senate Republican officials told The Washington Times yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ashcroft withstood a second day of criticism from liberal Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who sharply questioned his position on civil rights, race, abortion and gun control and his fitness for the job of attorney general.

Mr. Ashcroft, however, continued to pledge that he would faithfully uphold the laws and his supporters read from dozens of letters of support from law enforcement officials and organizations that praised his toughness on crime and defense of victims rights.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, two self-identified Republican centrists, testified on Mr. Ashcroft's behalf, sending a signal that the party was united behind him and that he would likely win confirmation with the support of perhaps a dozen Democrats.

"The big loser in the Ashcroft hearings are the moderate Democrats who are being squeezed by the liberal special-interest groups who have made Ashcroft the new litmus test if you want a future in the Democratic Party," Mr. Reed said.

"The Republicans are united. Fifty GOP votes will go for Ashcroft, maybe as many as 15 Democrats will go for Ashcroft and it looks [like] he will [be] confirmed," he said.

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