Bush Keeps 4 Secretaries, Taps Nicholson

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President Bush has asked the secretaries of the Transportation, Labor, Interior and Housing departments to remain and they have all agreed, completing decisions about which Cabinet members will stay for his second term.

And Bush announced on Thursday that Jim Nicholson, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and current U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, is his choice as the next secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department.

Bush spoke with the four Cabinet secretaries — Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao — to secure their decisions to remain in the Cabinet, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Veterans Secretary Anthony Principi on Wednesday became the ninth member of Bush's 15-person Cabinet to leave. Nicholson, chosen to replace him, is a decorated Vietnam veteran.

"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."

The White House had announced Wednesday that Treasury Secretary John Snow would remain in his post.

Bush still must fill the top jobs at the Energy and Health and Human Services 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.