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Jonathan Karl: Silver lining for Bush -- Chavez controversy ended quickly

Jonathan Karl
Jonathan Karl  

CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl is reporting from Capitol Hill on the transition of President-elect George W. Bush.

Q: What are Republicans saying in the aftermath of Linda Chavez withdrawing her nomination for labor secretary?

KARL: What Republicans on Capitol Hill and those who worked with the Bush transition team on the Linda Chavez nomination are saying is that ultimately Linda Chavez was done in, not because of ideological opposition to her nomination and not because of the potential legality of housing an illegal alien. What did Linda Chavez in, they say, is that she was not forthcoming about the information in her interviews with the Bush transition team.


That's why you saw this thing move so quickly. It's interesting to note that Chavez was basically done in within 48 hours of the revelation of the illegal immigrant living in her home. That's a much shorter time than with Clinton's nominee Zoe Baird for attorney general. Back in 1993, Zoe Baird twisted in the wind for a full eight days of relentless questioning of the new Clinton administration, eight days of distractions, eight days of lost opportunity at the start of the new Clinton administration.

In this case, Bush acted extremely quickly. He acted in terms of simply not being out there supporting his nominee, which sent the very clear message that it was time for her to step aside.

Q: Is Chavez another victim of "politics of personal destruction," like she claims, or is it reasonable to assume that such attacks will always have a place on the Hill?

KARL: They are certainly grumbling about the so-called "politics of personal destruction." But what was seen as Chavez's biggest mistake was not what happened in her personal life, but her lack of candor with the Bush team about this aspect of her life.

Chavez was not defeated by the extremely vocal opposition groups to her nomination. The labor unions weren't the ones who pushed this story, although they were clearly happy with the results. This was a problem that many Republicans say was of Chavez's own making.

With that said, many conservatives when this story first broke had been urging the Bush team to stand by her because they were worried that if she were defeated it would embolden the opposition to go after other targeted nominees like John Ashcroft for attorney general and Gale Norton for interior secretary.

So, there is some grumbling in conservative circles that the Bush team really did nothing to defend Chavez and that they should have stood by her.

But those closest to the Bush administration say the silver lining is that the whole situation was over with in 48 hours.

Q: Has it emboldened the opposition to rally against other nominees?

KARL: Some Democratic senators privately say that the Chavez situation has emboldened the opposition and that Ashcroft could be in potentially more trouble than before this happened.

It's extremely important to point out that Chavez was not defeated by the Democratic interest groups that were lined up against her nomination. This was something that had to do with her personal life, not something dealing with her ideology.

So far, the only arguments made against John Ashcroft have been on ideological grounds, not on something that he did wrong in his personal life.

In that sense, it's hard to really see how the Chavez situation has anything to do with the Ashcroft nomination. Democrats up here will also acknowledge that unless there is some kind of revelation of wrongdoing that comes out of the Ashcroft hearings, then it is unlikely his nomination will be defeated.

Q: What are Democrats saying about other potential nominees for labor secretary?

KARL: One thing that's interesting is that Democrats on the Education and Labor Committee, which will hold the confirmation hearing on the new labor secretary, are letting the Bush team know they would like some input as well as consent on this nomination. The Democrats would like to be involved in some sense in the process of giving a preliminary thumbs-up or thumbs-down before Bush actually makes the next nomination.

In fact, there has been some low-level contact between Democratic staffers on that committee and the Bush team.


Thursday, January 11, 2001


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