- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

The incoming Bush administration yesterday accused liberal Democratic groups opposing Bush Cabinet nominees of perpetuating Washington's "war-room mentality" in an effort to boost their own fund-raising campaigns.

"It was disheartening to see in the papers this morning that there already are groups that are gearing up for major fights in Washington, and they're doing so, as the papers pointed out this morning, to help themselves, to raise money to warm up for the next battles in the naming of people to the Supreme Court," Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President-elect George W. Bush, told reporters yesterday morning.

"This is a time to unify and to act in a bipartisan fashion, and I think that opposition so they can raise money and so they can warm up for the next [fight] is wrong," he said at an afternoon news conference as he again pressed the issue.

Liberal groups have been complaining loudly about a handful of the Bush appointments so far, particularly former Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general. Mr. Ashcroft, who lost his bid for re-election last year, was one of the most conservative members of Congress and was particularly outspoken in his pro-life and religious views.

Other Bush nominees, including Treasury Secretary-nominee Paul O'Neill, have drawn little controversy. Commerce Secretary-nominee Donald L. Evans appears to face little difficulty in getting confirmed following his confirmation hearing yesterday, the first Bush Cabinet hearing.

Senate Democrats told The Washington Times this week that they were resigned to seeing all the Bush Cabinet picks confirmed, and even privately criticized some civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, for attacking Mr. Ashcroft and others.

But some Democrats say they will still publicly raise questions about the records of some Bush appointments, particularly Mr. Ashcroft.

Left-leaning civil rights groups say Mr. Ashcroft is too much of an ideologue to head the Justice Department. They accuse him of racial bias for his part in derailing the nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White to be a federal judge. Mr. Ashcroft says he opposed Mr. White because of his stand on the death penalty, not because he is black.

To a lesser degree, liberal groups have complained about the nomination of Linda Chavez to be secretary of labor and Gail Norton to head the Interior Department. Opponents say Mrs. Chavez is too conservative on affirmative action and that Mrs. Norton is too committed to oil drilling in wilderness areas.

Mr. Fleischer said he expects the Senate, with Democratic support, to confirm all of Mr. Bush's nominations. The Senate, with Republican support, confirmed Mr. Clinton's more liberal slate of Cabinet officers in 1996.

"And that's part of changing the tone, it's part of moving beyond what's been such a war-room mentality in Washington," Mr. Fleischer said. "And we hope that people will not contribute to that any further."

The liberal group Americans for Democratic Action, which is actively opposing Mr. Ashcroft's nomination, sharply disputed Mr. Fleischer's comments yesterday. Spokesman Mike Alpern said his organization is not using Mr. Ashcroft's name in fund raising.

He pinned the blame for the opposition on Mr. Bush himself, saying that Mr. Ashcroft's views are so doctrinaire that his nomination was sure to provoke a liberal backlash.

Mr. Ashcroft's hard-line views "are a very frightening thing for all Americans," Mr. Alpern said, "not just partisan groups trying to raise money."

None of the controversial nominees is likely to be defeated by the Senate, where Democrats have admitted they don't have the power to derail the nominations. They say, however, they are likely to ask tough questions, particularly during Mr. Ashcroft's confirmation hearing.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, continues to name members of staff, although he has finished picking his Cabinet officials. He named his chief campaign strategist, Karl Rove, as a special adviser to the White House. He also named campaign chairman Joe Allbaugh, his former gubernatorial chief of staff, to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Karl has got a fantastic mind. He is one of the reasons why I was elected governor and one of the reasons why I was elected the president," Mr. Bush said. "He comes to Washington with a wonderful sense of history, a great understanding of the presidency as an institution in America. He will bring good judgment, good humor and good advice to the White House."

Mr. Bush also tapped Nick Calio to direct his outreach to Congress. Mr. Calio filled the same role for Mr. Bush's father and was also a key lobbyist, representing a coalition of businessmen and pro-trade Christian conservatives, in favor of normal trade relations for China.

The Bush team dampened speculation yesterday that it would ask FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to retire, possibly in favor of Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. Mr. Freeh is seven years into his 10-year term.

"It is his 10-year term… . We don't expect people to leave until their term expires," Mr. Fleischer said. "He's staying."

Mr. Fleischer and other Bush spokesmen, however, denied that anyone connected with Mr. Bush had specifically asked Mr. Freeh to stay. Attorney General Janet Reno said yesterday that the new administration had asked him to stay on.

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