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Looking Ahead to Bush II

With victory looking more likely, speculation swirls on Bush's cabinet

by James D. Besser

December 7, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Gen. Colin L. Powell, left, is expected to be offered the job of secretary of state in a Bush White House, while former Secretary of State James Baker III is seen as a trusted adviser.

Gen. Colin L. Powell, left, is expected to be offered the job of secretary of state in a Bush White House, while former Secretary of State James Baker III is seen as a trusted adviser.

The results of the strangest-ever presidential election are still not official, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush is accelerating his transition efforts.

And despite the morass of legal challenges to the bungled vote in Florida, a growing number of Democrats believe the GOP nominee will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20.

According to most estimates, the second Bush administration will look a lot like the first, with some key associates of the father also serving the son. The list is topped by Dick Cheney, the defense secretary during the last Bush administration, who is poised to wield unprecedented power during a second Bush administration as vice president.

Less obvious but no less powerful will be former Secretary of State James Baker III, whose "F--- the Jews" comment in the heat of the 1991 battle over loan guarantees for Israel continues to rankle many. Baker, largely invisible during the campaign, has reemerged to manage Bush's legal efforts in the Florida vote fracas.

"There is a community of Bush family retainers who will be probably be called on from time to time," said Marshall Wittman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. "That includes Baker and (former national security advisor Brent) Scowcroft. It's unclear what the payoff will be for Baker for pulling the fat out of the fire in Florida."

But Wittman predicted that Baker will be a senior member of Bush's kitchen cabinet, not an appointed official.

There will be fewer Jews in a Bush administration than in the outgoing one, although Republican activists say minorities will be well represented. "He will surprise people with how diverse his administration will actually be," said A. Mark Neuman, a longtime Jewish Republican activist and White House official during the Reagan administration.

Two critical appointments with major implications for Israel are all but set.

Gen. Colin L. Powell, the African-American, Yiddish-speaking retired Joint Chiefs chairman, met with Bush at his Texas ranch last week. No formal announcements have been made, but the Bush transition team has made it clear he will be offered the job of secretary of state.

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell worked closely with Israeli military leaders, including Ehud Barak, then his Israeli counterpart. But Powell's focus is expected to center on Europe. And in the Middle East, he will take a broader view of the region, said Shoshana Bryen, special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

"He will have a great interest in Mideast policy, but with a wider focus," she said. "There will be more of an emphasis on Iran and Iraq, and changes in the Gulf states' relations to the United States."

Jewish leaders, Bryen said, may be disconcerted by the way Powell approaches international conflicts. "He starts with the idea that all the sides have some validity in their positions," she said. "He spends a great deal of time looking at everybody's positions, looking for the points of validity."

Powell's likely de-emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict will be mirrored by the other star in Bush's foreign policy cosmos--Condoleezza Rice, the Stanford professor, Russia expert and close Bush confidante who is considered a sure bet as national security adviser.

"There's a tremendous amount of confidence and personal chemistry between Rice and Bush," said a leading Republican activist. "She's running the show; she will almost certainly eclipse the secretary of state, whoever it turns out to be."

Rice shares Bush's vision of "doing fewer things and doing them better," this source said. Her emphasis will be more on Europe and the former Soviet Union; she'll be "less likely to turn the Arab-Israeli situation into the number one priority."

Rice is regarded as a protégé of Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor to Bush's father and a controversial figure to many Jewish leaders because of his cool attitude toward Israel.

But pro-Israel leaders who have met with her during the campaign say she is knowledgeable and open to their views on the importance of strong U.S.-Israeli ties.

Beyond Powell and Rice, the speculation gets dicier, largely because Bush himself has not made any firm decisions. Several well-known Jews could be in line for important posts in the new administration.

Republican insiders say Paul Wolfowitz, who served in senior positions in both the State and Defense departments during the first Bush administration, has a good shot at the secretary of defense post. Wolfowitz could also be tapped as director of the Central Intelligence Agency instead, although some GOP sources say he has signaled he does not want the job.

A longer shot: Jewish neo-conservative guru Richard Perle, an assistant defense secretary during the Reagan administration whom Bush regards as an authority on strengthening the military for a new era.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a top advisor during the campaign, is expected to get either a cabinet post -- Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services have been mentioned -- or a position as senior domestic policy advisor at the White House. Goldsmith, considered a moderate and innovative Republican, is a leading advocate of privatizing government functions.

Republican sources say Rudy Boschwitz, a former GOP senator from Minnesota, was an early and energetic Bush supporter and could be rewarded with an important post. Boschwitz has been mentioned for U.S. trade representative or agriculture secretary, although he is not a first-tier candidate for either position.

Another former senator, New Hampshire's Warren Rudman, has an outside chance of breaking into the Bush cabinet. Rudman, remembered mostly for the 1985 Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction law. is Jewish, although he never identified with the Senate's Jewish delegation during his two terms on Capitol Hill. But Rudman was an early supporter of Bush's main rival in the primaries, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which could leave him out in the New England cold.

Another Jew, international trade lawyer Josh Bolten, is a candidate for White House domestic policy advisor or possibly U.S. trade representative. Bolten, an official during the first Bush administration, served as policy director during the campaign.

And the new White House spokesman is likely to be Ari Fleisher, who served in that role throughout the campaign and this week was named transition spokesman.

Fleisher will be number two on the White House communications team; Karen Hughes is likely to reprise her role as communications director. As a top congressional staffer, Fleisher was a major figure in Capitol Hill Jewish activities and served as president of the Capitol Jewish Forum.

Dov Zackheim, another Reagan Administration defense official and a Bush foreign policy advisor during the campaign, could get the nod for an important sub-cabinet role, possibly as policy planning chief at the State Department.

Jewish leaders wonder who, if anyone, will replace two Jewish officials who have served critical and unique functions in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Stuart Eizenstat, the deputy treasury secretary who has continued to serve as the administration's point man on Holocaust restitution questions even as he has shifted jobs, is unlikely to be retained by a Republican administration.

"Stuart's role is unique, and it will be a major blow when he leaves," said a Jewish activist involved in the restitution battle. "It will be impossible to find anybody with his stature and passion for the subject; it will be a special problem if Bush fails to give the portfolio to someone else after Stuart's departure."

And Dennis Ross, the administration's special negotiator and a veteran of the first Bush administration, has already announced that he will leave at the end of Bill Clinton's term. In recent years, Ross has taken on a much more visible role as Washington became an active participant in the Israeli-Palestinian talks, not just an involved bystander.

Political insiders say Bush may not move to fill the Ross slot, signaling a diminished U.S. role in the day-to-day negotiations. If he does, the job could go to Edward Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria and Israel and a Baker protégé.

Some non-Jewish potential nominees are also attracting the attention of Jewish leaders here.

Some Republican leaders are pushing former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) for attorney general. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest, is a strong conservative, but during 18 years on Capitol Hill he developed a reputation for integrity that won admiration from both sides of the aisle. Danforth was also a strong supporter of Israel and worked closely with Orthodox groups on some domestic issues.

Another Missourian is also on the Bush short list for the top legal job: outgoing Sen. John Ashcroft, who lost his reelection bid to the state's late governor. Ashcroft is a ferocious domestic conservative who has locked horns with liberal Jewish groups on issues such as charitable choice.

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