Bush relaxes in Texas, ponders candidates for final two Cabinet slots

President-elect George Bush, his Cabinet all but completed, headed for Texas yesterday to begin his annual post-Christmas quail-hunting trip at the 10,000-acre ranch of a close friend. He plans to return here Thursday after stopping over in Montgomery, Ala., for a couple of hours of fishing.

The hunting trip - a ritual Mr. Bush has followed for 20 years - began two days after Bush named his 13th Cabinet member, Elizabeth Dole, as labor secretary. The surprise nomination means that only two top-level jobs, energy secretary, and drug czar, both Cabinet-level posts, remain open.

Bush, who had earlier set a self-imposed Christmas deadline to name his Cabinet, was unperturbed about the vacancies.

``I still think we're ahead of schedule,'' he said, predicting he would fill the energy slot ``in a week or so.'' ``This one is a very critical one ... because of the attention to some of the nuclear-related problems.... I am not going to be under the gun on this last one to meet a timetable of some sort.''

Among those mentioned for the energy post are Peter Johnson, the former head of the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Ore.; former Louisiana Rep. Henson Moore, and Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, head of the Pentagon's Strategic Defense Initiative office. Customs Service chief William von Raab is known to be interested in the antidrug post.

With the Cabinet just about complete, Bush said that when he returns he will start focusing on ``the first hundred days, on legislative initiatives, on working with the secretaries-designate'' to come up with policies.

The selection of Mrs. Dole, the first female Bush has named to a full Cabinet post, was applauded by members of Congress and labor leaders. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, called Dole ``an excellent choice.''

``We look forward to working with her,'' AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland said. ``She is a person of proven stature and wide experience in public life who will give the Labor Department an important voice in the affairs of interest to working Americans.''

Bush said a ``dramatic change'' has occurred as women enter the work force in increasing numbers, and ``in this environment, it is essential that we have a secretary of labor who understands the challenges out there, and who has the experience, the stature, and the ability to deal with them effectively.''

``To promote and protect the welfare of America's working men and women, America's working families, is a challenge I accept with great enthusiasm,'' Dole said. She said she would give a high priority to issues such as child care and the homeless.

On specific labor issues, Bush said he still favors raising the minimum wage, but he did not know when he might ask Congress to take that step. He was also noncommital on broadening job protection for parents who take leaves when children are born or fall ill.

Mrs. Dole is half of what inside Washington likes to call a ``power couple.'' Her husband is Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas, who waged an unsuccessful campaign against Bush for the GOP presidential nomination last year.

Mrs. Dole served as Ronald Reagan's transportation secretary from 1983 until 1987, when she resigned to work on her husband's campaign.

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