Bush labor nominee housed illegal alien
Republicans say Linda Chavez helped but didn't employ Guatemalan woman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President-elect George W. Bush's transition team confirmed Sunday that Linda Chavez, nominated to be labor secretary, allowed a Guatemalan woman who was in the United States illegally to live in her home and gave the woman spending money.
Several Democrats immediately suggested the disclosure might sink her nomination, making Chavez the second Bush nominee to encounter rough political waters.
John Ashcroft, Bush's nominee for attorney general, is expected to face a tough confirmation hearing over his conservative views, including opposition to affirmative action and abortion rights.
In defense of Chavez, Bush spokesman Tucker Eskew said she helped the illegal immigrant in order "to reach out to people in need." Eskew said Chavez did not pay the woman as an employee when she lived at her Washington home in the early 1990s, so Chavez did not worry about giving her money.
He said Chavez did not know at the time that the woman was an illegal immigrant and did not ask about her status.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said the revelation might cause major problems during confirmation hearings for the nominee. "I think it would present very serious problems," Daschle said on the CBS program "Face the Nation."
"This is the labor secretary," he said. "The labor secretary ought to set the example to be able to enforce all of the laws. If she hasn't been able to do that in the past, one would have serious questions about whether she'd be able to do it in her capacity as secretary of labor."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said, "It doesn't sound good to me -- somebody who lived with you, did some chores around your house? She really didn't get paid, she just got some living money? It doesn't sound good for a labor secretary. I'll tell you that right now."
Speaking on the same program, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called on his colleagues to "withhold judgment" until hearing more about the relationship.
"We have not heard Ms. Chavez's side of the story yet," McCain said. "I'm sure the facts will come out in the process of the hearings."
But Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said on "Late Edition," "It would be important to hear from the Bush transition team exactly what transpired, what information they had and what's her, you know, explanation for this issue."
Immigrant was 'in dire circumstances'
Eskew said the unidentified Guatemalan woman -- referred to Chavez by a friend -- was "in dire circumstances" when she came seeking help. Eskew said the woman "had no money, no language skills." He said Chavez drove her to appointments and showed her how to ride the Metro subway system in Washington.
Although the woman did odd jobs around the house for Chavez and occasionally received money, it was not payment for the work, Eskew said. He said Chavez never employed the woman and was therefore never required to file any tax forms or make any tax payments for the woman.
The hearings on Chavez's nomination are scheduled for the week of January 16. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee until January 20.
Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley called the Chavez revelation "a troubling new allegation which needs to be fully investigated at the time of the hearing. It's already an extremely troubling nomination because of her long-standing hostility to the basic rights of American workers."
Bush already has acknowledged that some of his Cabinet nominees will face tough questioning.
Said Eskew: "We believe the facts as we have described them support the Chavez nomination. We're just asking people to look at the facts."
'Lifelong habit of reaching out to people in need'
The Bush spokesman described Chavez as someone with a "lifelong pattern of taking in people who are down on their luck."
As examples, Eskew cited two Vietnamese refugees he said were taken in by Chavez and her family in the late 1970s. He also said Chavez helped pay the private school tuition of two New York girls of Puerto Rican descent.
"We ask people to look carefully at this lifelong habit of reaching out to people in need, and how it fits her approach to life," Eskew said.
Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the assistant Republican leader, told ABC's "This Week" program he did not know of the new allegations. "But I do know Linda Chavez, and I have great respect for her," Nickles said. "I think she'll do a great job, and I'm confident she will be confirmed."
Labor unions worry that Chavez, a strong opponent of affirmative action, will not look after their best interests. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called her nomination "an insult to American working men and women."
Opponent of affirmative action
Chavez, 53, is an outspoken critic of so-called affirmative action programs for blacks, Hispanics and others. She believes U.S. minority groups can succeed without special help from the government.
A syndicated columnist and author who was Bush's campaign adviser on immigration, Chavez last week recalled her parents and the long hours they worked as a house painter and in restaurants and department stores when she was growing up.
"If I am confirmed as secretary of labor, I intend to keep faith with the men and the women who still work at jobs like those my parents held," Chavez said after Bush introduced her to the media in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday.
She promised to help make American workers more productive, promote safe working conditions and ensure that federal contractors do not discriminate.
CNN White House Correspondent Major Garrett and Reuters contributed to this report.