1. Archive

Bush has yet to bring a Democrat into the fold

The four newly selected Cabinet designates expected, as President-elect George W. Bush introduced them, to delve into their resumes and their plans for improving schools, protecting park land or upgrading services for veterans.

Instead, a reporter lobbed this question: "Any Democrats up there?"

Bewildered, the four paused, then glanced at one another. "No," they said.

After his narrow election victory, Bush said he would try to bring Democrats into the fold to help steer his administration to the center and establish an aura of bipartisanship.

He met with Sen. John Breaux, D-La., to talk about how the two sides could work on policy. Democratic names floated in and out of the political ether: Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas; Rep. Norman Sisisky of Virginia; Sam Nunn, the former senator from Georgia; William Gray, a former congressman from Pennsylvania; the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman from New York.

Now, with 12 of the 15 Cabinet jobs already tentatively filled, some wonder whether Bush's search for Democrats had fizzled. The posts that remain open are for the departments of labor, energy and transportation.

Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary, said Friday that finding Democrats for Cabinet jobs remains a goal, and he expressed guarded optimism about the continuing search.

"There are three Cabinet announcements that remain," Fleischer said. "And we are hopeful. There are no guarantees for hopeful."

At a news conference Thursday, Bush said he had tried to recruit Democrats.

"You know, we've talked to some Democrats," Bush said. "I've talked to Democrats about their willingness to work with us in Congress. I've talked to Democrats about whether or not there may be an interest of leaving their current positions. And most people want to stay in place."

Bush said he talked with Breaux about his interests, and Breaux told him he wanted to remain in the Senate. Recently, the name of Gov. Tony Knowles of Alaska has cropped up for energy secretary, but Friday, Knowles' spokesman, Bob King, said his Democratic boss had not been contacted by anyone on the Bush team.

And another Democrat, Lee Hamilton, has been mentioned as ambassador to the United Nations.

Recruiting Democrats is not as simple as it seems.

"It's going to be a lot tougher than Bush thinks to get Democrats to cross lines," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor.

In the Senate, Democrats are not willing to upset the 50-50 balance they now share with Republicans, even though Republicans will control the Senate because of Dick Cheney's vote.

Others say Bush is not offering moderate Democrats a strong enough vision, as Ronald Reagan did, to lure them his way. And most liberal Democrats would not want a job in a Bush administration, especially considering the bitterness of the post-election Florida vote recount.

Also, there is the future to think about, and Democrats believe they are on their way back up. Senate Democrats hope to recapture the Senate in 2002, and House Democrats, who face a more difficult climb, are still striving to reclaim their power.

"On a purely pragmatic level," said Mark Siegel, a Democratic consultant, "Democrats are very upbeat. They think they have a great shot at the Senate in 2002, and possibly the House, as well as president in 2004. There is very little incentive to join the Republicans' administration."

Still, is there not at least one Democrat willing to join a White House team? One House Democratic leadership aide said a few conservative House Democrats would probably have jumped at the chance but had not been contacted.

"I haven't heard any House members that they have talked to yet," the aide said.

Bush has taken great care to diversify his Cabinet in other ways to better reflect the nation's image: So far, he has recruited women, African-Americans and Hispanics for Cabinet jobs. All of them must be confirmed by the Senate.