President Bush on Thursday announced that he had selected former Republican National Committee Jim Nicholson to head the Veterans Affairs Department and his spokesman said that four other Cabinet members — the secretaries of the Transportation, Labor, Interior and Housing departments — had agreed to stay on for his second term.
In announcing his selection of Nicholson to replace Veterans Secretary Anthony Principi, Bush praised the decorated Vietnam veteran and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican for his long record of public service.
“Jim Nicholson is a patriot, a man of deep conviction who has answer his country’s call many times,” Bush said in the brief Roosevelt Room announcement ceremony.
Nicholson stood at his side, with his wife and two of their children looking on.
“When I think of growing up dirt poor in a tenant house without plumbing and sometimes without food, I marvel at America, that the boy from Struble, Iowa, may serve in the president’s Cabinet. How could this be?” Nicholson said. “For me, it is because of the opportunities my country gave me as a cadet at West Point and as a soldier. These experiences have defined my life.”
Four asked to stay
Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that Bush had asked four Cabinet secretaries — Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao — and asked them to remain in the Cabinet for his second term. All agreed, McClellan said.
Principi on Wednesday became the ninth member of Bush’s 15-person Cabinet to leave.
The White House also announced Wednesday that Treasury Secretary John Snow would remain in his post.
Bush has yet to fill vacancies at the Health and Human Services and Energy departments.
McClellan said Thursday he would not speculate on who would take those jobs.
Among the names mentioned to succeed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham are Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry’s trade group; Kyle McSlarrow, Abraham’s deputy at Energy; former Louisiana Democratic Sen. Bennett Johnston; current Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux; New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson; and William S. Martin, who had a top post in the Energy Department under Bush’s father.
Abraham announced his resignation on Nov. 15, which suggests the White House has had difficulty finding a replacement.
Medicare chief Mark McClellan, who also has served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and is the brother of White House press secretary McClellan — is considered to be Bush’s top choice to replace Secretary Tommy Thompson at Health and Human Services.
The amount of changeover in Bush’s Cabinet is on the high side for a second-term president. Presidents Clinton and Reagan saw seven Cabinet seats change hands after they won new terms, President Nixon nine and Presidents Truman and Johnson four each.
Bush spoke with Mineta, Chao and Norton on Wednesday. His conversation with Jackson came a couple of weeks ago, McClellan said. He did not say why the White House waited to announce the decisions to keep them on.