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The Jewish Week, the 5th of January, 2001:

Bush Cabinet Complete: No Jews At The Table

Diversity is name of game, but one ethnic group is left out.

By James D. Besser - Washington Correspondent

 

 

As promised, the cabinet of President-elect George W. Bush is looking like one of the most diverse in history. But that diversity apparently has its limits.

The cabinet will include a Japanese-American Democrat, a Hispanic, an Arab-American and several African-Americans, but no Jews.

But former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a close Bush adviser, is expected to be appointed to a new White House office of faith-based initiatives.

And Jewish Republicans point out that Josh Bolten, named last week as Bush’s top policy adviser, is Jewish, as is the incoming White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

The Arab-American in the nascent Bush cabinet is former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), who was defeated in his bid for a second term on Nov. 7. Abraham, who takes over at the Department of Energy, is generally popular with Jewish groups, and his nomination is unlikely to stir much opposition.

More controversial will be Tuesday’s appointment of Linda Chavez as labor secretary. Chavez, a former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Reagan administration and an unsuccessful Senate candidate from Maryland, currently serves as president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that opposes affirmative action and bilingual education.

Ira Forman, executive director of the partisan National Jewish Democratic Council, slammed Chavez a “conservative ideologue. Given the perfectly divided electorate and Gov. Bush’s own rhetoric about ‘uniting’ and ‘healing,’ this is not the time to be appointing right-wing firebrands.”

And he added that “America’s workers will clearly not appreciate having a labor secretary who has argued against a common-sense increase in the minimum wage.”

 

But a top Jewish Republican praised the nomination.  

“She’s smart and innovative, and will shake things up,” this source said.

Chavez, who is married to Chris Gersten, the former executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, will generate intense debate during confirmation hearings, but few observers expect her nomination to be quashed.

The selection of former Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general is putting Jewish groups in a bind.

Only one Jewish group - the National Council of Jewish Women - has formally come out against the nomination. But several others that traditionally do not take positions on executive-branch nominations are considering jumping into the fray - in part because they are feeling the heat from their coalition partners in the areas of civil rights, abortion and church-state separation.

Leaders of these groups promise an all-out fight against Ashcroft - and they want the Jews at their side.

“He is a very polarizing figure who is generating some very passionate opposition,” said an official with a Jewish group that has not taken an official position on Ashcroft. “It could be hard to sit on the sidelines in this fight.”

They’re Back:

New Congress Sworn In

Members of the 107th Congress were sworn in this week, setting the stage for what most Jewish lobbyists say will be one of the most contentious and difficult legislative sessions in recent history.

“It is possibility they will move toward the center and try to work things out on a number of issues,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Committee. “But its even likelier we’ll see perpetual gridlock as both the majority and the minority allow their agendas to be dictated by the most ideological wings of their parties.”

President-elect Bush has promised to make sweeping education initiatives his first priority, and that will be reflected in the congressional to-do list.

This week there were reports that Bush, facing strong opposition from education groups and most Democrats, will not make school vouchers a major part of his education initiative.

The Bush transition team denied those reports, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill indicated that vouchers for parochial and private school parents will continue to be a top priority - especially because they will no longer face a certain veto from the White House.

Still, the Bush administration is expected to emphasize other elements of its educational agenda, including programs to tighten educational standards and to give states and localities more flexibility in programming.

“We’ll have to watch closely and see how it unfolds,” said Foltin, whose group opposes parochial-school vouchers. “I suspect there will be aspects of the administration’s education agenda we can endorse.”

Congressional Republicans are expected to ratchet up their efforts to pass “charitable choice” plans, which would allow religious groups freer access to federal health and social service dollars.

And this time they will be backed by an administration that has made support for faith-based initiatives a top priority and a likely attorney general whose name has been on a number of charitable choice bills.

Jewish groups will also press for restoration of benefits to immigrants and refugees cut by a 1996 law and for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which has languished in Congress for several years.

Officially, Jewish groups will continue to lobby for passage of the Hate Crime Prevention Act, which was killed by congressional Republican leaders last year. But the new administration is unlikely to support it, and most Jewish activists concede the measure will be DOA in the Capitol.

The Bush administration has not yet signaled if it will renew the Clinton administration’s request for $800 million in supplementary Mideast aid, including $450 million to help Israel beef up its missile defenses and pay for last year’s Lebanon withdrawal.

“The Middle East situation is very murky, as far as Congress is concerned,” said an aide to a prominent Jewish lawmaker. “Members want to help Israel and want to help with the peace process, but it’s so unclear what’s happening in the negotiations that it will be hard to generate any kind of action on Capitol Hill.”

And that includes action on any new aid request.

 

Praise For Rumsfeld  

Last week President-elect Bush sent Jewish activists and reporters scrambling for their history books to find out more about his nominee as secretary of defense.

Donald H. Rumsfeld held the position in a prior administration, but it was so far back that few Jewish activists remember how he handled the sensitive Middle East question.

Rumsfeld headed the Pentagon during the administration of President Gerald Ford. Despite several high-profile government assignments since then, including chairmanship of a 1998 bipartisan panel that looked into the issue of missile proliferation, he has been outside the Washington spotlight for several decades.

Rumsfeld also served briefly as U.S. Middle East envoy during the Reagan administration, but he didn’t hold the job long enough to step on any political landmines.

In terms of U.S.-Israel relations Rumsfeld was “correct but not warm,” said Morris Amitay, a pro-Israel lobbyist and fund-raiser who was head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, during Rumsfeld’s first Pentagon tour. “He left no strong impression.”

Shoshana Bryen, special projects director for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, praised the appointment, even though “he has not really been a player in terms of the strong connection to Israel.”

But Rumsfeld, a former congressman from Illinois and White House chief of staff, will bring a strong perspective on U.S. strategic interests in a changing world, she said.

“The first thing to know about him is that he is very much in favor of missile defenses and very supportive of the Iraqi opposition, which makes him a very important asset in terms of Israel,” she said.

Rumsfeld’s leading role in the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Threat to the United States could auger well for Israel’s aggressive missile defense program, said another leading pro-Israel activist.

“The current administration has not moved forward in this critical area, despite abundant evidence that nations like Iran and Iraq are advancing their missile and weapons of mass destruction programs very aggressively,” this source said. “Rumsfeld has a very deep understanding of the need, and ultimately this will be very beneficial to Israel.”

Rumsfeld is also regarded as a strong and competent manager who can maintain a firm grip on the Pentagon’s tiller, despite the central role of two other former defense leaders in the administration - Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, another former defense secretary, and former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell, Bush’s nominee as secretary of state.

“He won’t be run over by State, the National Security Council, the vice president or anybody else,” Bryen said.

It was Rumsfeld’s management experience and forceful personality that edged out the other top contenders, including former Sen. Dan Coats and Paul Wolfowitz, a former Pentagon official.

Rumsfeld’s appointment was bad news for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. Rumsfeld was one of seven former secretaries of defense who wrote to President Bill Clinton two years ago, urging him not to release Pollard.

That letter was also signed by the man who considered Rumsfeld a mentor during their service together during the Ford administration - Dick Cheney.

 

New Role For Lowey  

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester) is rapidly scaling the top rungs of the Democratic Party.

Lowey, a member of the informal Jewish caucus and a leading congressional supporter of Israel, this week was named chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, replacing Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.).

Traditionally, that job goes to lawmakers who are seen by their colleagues as outstanding fund-raisers who can boost the party’s chances in upcoming elections.

Lowey’s new role is especially important because of the growing expectation that the Democrats have a very good chance of taking back the House in 2002.

“You don’t get this kind of position without being a genuine political star,” said a leading Jewish Democrat. “She has become one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish delegation in the House because she’s a very good politician.”

Lowey will also be the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee - a position she has used to bolster congressional support for Israel.

Lowey is not the first Jew to hold the important party post; several years ago, the DCCC chair was Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas).

 

 


 

 



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