Bush Convenes First Cabinet Meeting

Wednesday, January 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush was convening his first Cabinet meeting, but with some conspicuous absences. His attorney general and trade representative have not yet won Senate confirmation, and his health secretary was home in Wisconsin delivering his swan song as governor.

Bush's tax cut proposals were at the top of Wednesday's agenda. He was meeting with 19 lawmakers on the House and Senate tax-writing committees, seeking support for his proposed 10-year, $1.6 Trillion tax cut.

He was pitching the tax plan to wholesale distributors who were dropping by the White House office complex. And in a gathering with Roman Catholic charities, he was promoting his proposed tax breaks that would encourage charitable giving.

Later, he was sitting down with the Congressional Black Caucus. Blacks overwhelmingly favored Bush's opponent, Al Gore, in the November election, and many remain distrustful of the new president.

That suspicion deepened for some blacks when Bush nominated John Ashcroft as attorney general. Ashcroft's record against affirmative action, hate-crimes laws and desegregation lawsuits has won Bush fresh criticism from some activists.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly sent Ashcroft's nomination to the full Senate, and Republicans were pressing for a Thursday vote.

Bush voiced frustration with the continuing opposition to Ashcroft from Democrats and from private groups critical of his views.

``There's been a lot of discussion, a lot of debate, a lot of questionnaires presented and answers filled out and it's time for the vote, it seems to me,'' Bush said Tuesday.

With Ashcroft not yet installed at the Justice Department, Bush tapped a holdover from the Clinton administration, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, to substitute for Ashcroft at the first Cabinet meeting.

Likewise, Bush's pick for U.S. trade representative, Robert Zoellick, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. He was questioned Tuesday by members the Senate Finance Committee, which pressed him on how he would deal with trade disputes with the European Union, China and Canada.

Bush asked Rita Hayes, the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization in the Clinton administration, to sit in for Zoellick at Wednesday's meeting.

Tommy Thompson, Bush's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, was confirmed by the Senate a week ago. But Thompson chose to return to Wisconsin, where he still is governor, to give a final state of the state address.

Thompson has made it clear that he found it emotionally difficult to leave Wisconsin.

Surgeon General David Satcher was to sit in for Thompson.

Bush has not settled on the final composition of his Cabinet, administration officials said Tuesday. The president elevated the U.S. trade representative and Environmental Protection Agency positions to Cabinet level, and may add others, they said.