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Lynn Martin: Chavez needs to tell her side

January 8, 2000
8:05 p.m. EST

From 1991 to 1993, Lynn Martin served as Secretary of Labor under President George H.W. Bush. Before joining the Bush administration, Martin represented Illinois' 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Today, she is an advisor to the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, and chairs its Council on the Advancement of Women.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to, Secretary Lynn Martin.

CNN Moderator: When this story first broke, it was said that Linda Chavez had not known the woman, identified as Marta Mercado, was an illegal immigrant. New information says that she did know the woman was an illegal immigrant. Does this changing story hurt Ms. Chavez's nomination?

Lynn Martin: One of the perils of being put up for the Cabinet, as wonderful as it is, is that you cannot speak to the press. Tradition is that the nominee does not speak to reporters but waits for his or her hearing before the U.S. Senate. That means we cannot hear from Secretary-designate Chavez; she can't go on a show or clarify. So, none of us know, including me, what she knew or when she knew it. I cannot tell you when she knew or if she knew. We will have to find that out from her.

CNN Moderator: Bush has another nomination that might be a problem: former Senator John Ashcroft as attorney general. How much political capital can President-elect Bush expend on the Chavez nomination if he needs most of it to win confirmation for Ashcroft?

Lynn Martin: That question can be asked to both the president's people and to the Democrats. I happen to believe that a president, regardless of party, deserves the chance, unless there's a real moral question, to have his nominees, and then if the nominees are not any good, to take the burden of that responsibility. I do not know how far the Democrats are willing to go, but it is clear they're going to have questions for both the former senator from Missouri and Ms. Chavez. That's appropriate. President-elect Bush is expending no capital by saying, "These are my nominees. Let's have the hearings."

Now if there was proof they had done something wrong, or they indicated they would only work with certain laws, then the nominations would be in trouble. I do not believe we will hear that from either of these Cabinet-designates.

I should add here, I do not share the personal belief in every single place of either of these designees. I would expect that's true of almost anyone you come up with. In other words, you aren't advising and consenting to someone who agrees perfectly with you. As a senator, you're advising and generally consenting to someone who will fill a position and obey the laws of this nation.

Question from Akila: Lynn, do you think Linda will stay in the fight?

Lynn Martin: Yes. I am not speaking for her. I have not talked to her. I'm not her spokesperson. She has had in many ways a hard life, and she has succeeded, not by giving up but by honestly staying the course. If she has done nothing wrong, I believe she will explain that to the Senate, and that is appropriate.

CNN Moderator: Ms. Chavez said that she gave the woman spending money, and that it was not really a salary. What are the IRS and INS regulations on giving money to illegal aliens?

Lynn Martin: There are different sets of regulations. What I believe is being said is there was no regular employment for which there was no salary; therefore, no rules would have been broken, and that, when we hear the testimony, we can judge that.

People can ask the question, "If you knew someone is illegal, should they be allowed to stay in your home?" I'm not going near that one; that's charity often. I don't know if Ms. Chavez knew, or when or if she knew, but I read that the Catholic Church was looking for a place for this woman, who needed a place to stay. I believe that would fulfill our definition, everyone's definition, of helping a human being in need, but we will find those answers in the hearing.

It is against the law to hire an illegal alien, and were that the case, that would be a difficult position for Ms. Chavez.

Question from OcGOP: Ms. Martin, separate from the hired-help issue, what is the general feeling of Ms. Chavez by organized labor groups? Are they all against her, or are some for her?

Lynn Martin: I don't speak for organized labor, either, but there are probably not too many Republicans organized labor might support. That's just reality. They were always reasonably kind to me, but it's true that they were not supportive of President-elect Bush in any way, shape or form. So, that might mean it might be difficult for him to find an appointee they would truly support. One might say it would be the level of their opposition you'd have to judge, and in this case, they seem pretty adamant about Ms. Chavez.

CNN Moderator: Chavez had criticized the nomination of Zoe Baird because Baird had employed a Peruvian couple for whom she failed to pay Social Security taxes. Is Chavez now asking to be held to a different standard?

Lynn Martin: Again, we'll have to wait until the hearings. If she hired an illegal alien, she's in a very difficult position. But in this case, and I think this has more resonance with women, I know of no friend of mine, woman or man but particularly woman, who, if you're staying at someone's house, doesn't help. It's something we women do.

Presidential Transition

CNN Moderator: What can Chavez do to salvage her nomination?

Lynn Martin: She must tell the truth when the time comes. She's very articulate, so I believe she'll be able to tell her side of the story when that time comes. As I understand, the hearing is shortly to be had. So, this will be her opportunity.

The facts as we have heard them so far are open to interpretation, but I would still say, it's OK. I continue to say the obvious: Were there more information that would put this in a different light, there could be difficulties, but this Latino woman has overcome so many hardships in her life, has knocked down so many barriers, that I believe most Americans who don't know her yet will be very impressed at the hearings.

I wonder were she a Democrat, would there have been criticism of her opening her home to someone who needed help. I'm not sure there would be. But life goes on, and this is the way today's world reacts. And everyone, regardless of party, has to expect that during a confirmation hearing.

Question from Teddy: Ms. Martin, it seems to be that perception of an appointee is everything. Since the perception of Chavez is already negative, shouldn't Bush just find some other person to try for the position?

Lynn Martin: No. First of all, this is an excellent point. Perception can become reality. But in America, we still believe that someone has a chance to speak up for himself or herself. So I would say let us pause and wait for the hearing and perhaps listen to some of the people who know her well to tell some of the positive things. We've heard very little of that yet.

CNN Moderator: The Democrats criticized Republicans, specifically Senator Jesse Helms, for refusing to have the nomination of William Weld come up for hearing and a vote. Do you think the Democrats are in danger of using the same tactics in regard to the Chavez nomination?

Lynn Martin: I do not know, since the Democrats do not check with me, but I frankly doubt that would happen. There will be a hearing.

CNN Moderator: Considering some of the comments regarding the Chavez, Ashcroft and possibly Abraham nominations, do you anticipate any of the Bush nominees to be defeated in committee or on the Senate floor?

Lynn Martin: As of this minute, no. But were there facts about any nominee that called the question of integrity or ability to follow the law -- and this does not know party -- that nominee could have difficulties. As of this second, with the information we have, even though there will be strong disagreements with the personal positions some of the nominees have, they would still be confirmed.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Secretary Lynn Martin.

Lynn Martin: Thank you.

Former Labor Secretary Lynn Martin joined the Crossfire chat room via telephone from West Palm Beach, Florida. provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Monday, January 8, 2001.

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