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Inside Politics

Bush names VA secretary nominee

Nicholson has been ambassador to Vatican for three years

Jim Nicholson, left, will need to be confirmed by the new Senate.
Jim Nicholson
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday named Jim Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, as his nominee to replace outgoing Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.

"Jim Nicholson is a patriot, a man of deep conviction, who has answered his country's call many times," Bush said of his nominee.

Nicholson has been ambassador to the Holy See in Vatican City since August 2001.

"Jim has worked with the Vatican to advance many vital foreign policy goals, including fighting poverty, hunger, AIDS, expanding religious liberty around the world and ending the brutal practice of human trafficking," Bush said.

Nicholson was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2000. He was an Army Ranger and a paratrooper during the Vietnam War.

Nicholson said his experiences as a cadet at West Point and as a soldier "have defined my life, shaped my abilities and my desire to serve."

"Our military is the pride of our country, " he said. "We can't pay them enough to do the things that we ask of them: the sacrifices, the separations, the heroics.

"They answer the call for one reason: Their country needs them. Our country depends on them, and they have never, ever let us down. We must not let them down either."

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest in the federal government. The secretary is in charge of 219,000 personnel, responsible for a nationwide system of health care services, benefits programs and national cemeteries for U.S. veterans and dependents.

The Senate must confirm Nicholson's nomination. Confirmation hearings have been scheduled for Margaret Spellings, nominated for education secretary, on January 6, and Condoleezza Rice, nominated for secretary of state, on January 18-19.

The White House also said Thursday that Bush had asked Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson to remain for his second term, and all agreed to stay.

Nine of 15 Cabinet secretaries have announced plans to leave the administration.

Principi submitted his resignation letter to Bush on November 16, saying it is "time to move on" for him personally and praising the president for giving veterans "dramatic increases to quality health care."

The president lauded Principi on Thursday, saying that veterans and their families have seen many improvements in veterans services under his leadership.

"Tony Principi has made it the department's highest priority to assist veterans with service-related disabilities, low incomes and other special needs," Bush said.

"[He] has shown himself to be an outstanding executive, a friend to his fellow veterans and a good-hearted man. I'm proud of his service."

Principi, 60, did not give a reason for his resignation but said that after four years of dedicated service "it is now time for me to move on to fresh opportunities and different challenges."

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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