- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

AUSTIN, Texas Democrats stepped up attacks yesterday on two of George W. Bush's most conservative Cabinet choices as the president-elect's team acknowledged Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez provided housing and financial aid to an illegal immigrant.
The disclosure of Mrs. Chavez's arrangement with the Guatemalan woman in the early 1990s sent the Bush camp scurrying to defend her. It volunteered that she also had provided support to two Vietnamese refugees and for the children of a Puerto Rican woman living in New York.
Tucker Eskew, a Bush transition spokesman, confirmed the central elements of an ABC report that the Guatemalan woman was in the United States illegally, had lived in the Chavez home in the early 1990s and had performed odd jobs around the house.
Mr. Eskew denied that Mrs. Chavez considered her an employee, portraying the relationship as "an act of charity and compassion." He said Mr. Bush "has absolute confidence not only in Ms. Chavez but as to her ultimate confirmation."
"This is not a nanny problem," Mr. Eskew insisted.
Democrats pledged to explore Mrs. Chavez's relationship with the woman, while one senior Senate Democrat indicated he might oppose John Ashcroft's nomination to be attorney general.
Opponents sought to liken the Chavez situation to the circumstances faced by Zoe Baird, President Clinton's nominee for attorney general, in 1993. Mrs. Baird withdrew after reports disclosed that she hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny and did not pay the employer's share of Social Security taxes.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said the accusation, if true, raises questions about Mrs. Chavez's qualifications to lead the Labor Department. "I think it would present very serious problems," Mr. Daschle said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Democrats also criticized Mr. Ashcroft, who lost a Senate re-election bid in November, for his views on abortion and his record on civil-rights issues. Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, called it "a divisive, not unifying nomination."
Mr. Kerry, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he was concerned about Mr. Ashcroft's opposition, while a senator, to an openly gay ambassador and to the appointment of David Satcher, who is black, as surgeon general.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, appearing on "Meet the Press," has said previously he was inclined to vote for Mr. Ashcroft "unless there's something I don't know." He said yesterday he has since learned some things about Mr. Ashcroft he did not know and added, "I may oppose his nomination." Mr. Biden is ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Democratic attacks on Mr. Ashcroft and Mrs. Chavez previewed likely bruising confirmation hearings.
Bush advisers viewed the growing opposition to Mrs. Chavez as the more serious of the two.
Mrs. Chavez, 53, a former Reagan administration official whose nomination has drawn sharp opposition from labor unions, provided shelter and financial assistance to the Guatemalan woman for about a year, Mr. Eskew said.
"Ms. Chavez did not employ this woman as a housekeeper or anything else," he said.
"On an irregular basis, she was given spending money. On an irregular basis, she did chores around the house," Mr. Eskew said. He said the money was mainly for "living expenses and to help her feed herself" and not compensation for the chores.
He said Mrs. Chavez suspected at the time that the woman was in the country illegally, although she did not focus on it because she did not consider her an employee.
"She didn't know for a fact" that the woman was undocumented, Mr. Eskew added, until a few years later when the woman, who had returned to Guatemala, called to request assistance for coming back to the United States legally to work.
"Ms. Chavez at the time looked into it and reported back that it would take years to do that," Mr. Eskew said.
He said there were two other times Mrs. Chavez had provided shelter and financial support to those in need. In the late 1970s, she took two Vietnamese brothers into her home and helped support them "for a number of weeks."
Again, in the early 1990s, she took in two grade-school-age children of a Puerto Rican woman and helped pay for their private-school education, Mr. Eskew said.
"She has a big heart," he said.
But the AFL-CIO, whose president, John Sweeney, has called Mrs. Chavez's nomination "an insult to American working men and women," issued a statement yesterday that said: "Unfortunately, her explanation sounds too much like the explanation of employers who have tried to skirt the law by saying that individuals are not their employees."


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