First Monday in Office: Clinton Picks Take Over

MOST of the Clinton Cabinet should be on the job today.

Fourteen of the Cabinet picks - including Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown, who had been the subject of some controversy regarding his lobbying activities - were confirmed late last week by the United States Senate. They were sworn in Saturday by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in the East Room of the White House as President Clinton looked on approvingly.

Several appointees were notably absent from the ceremony. United Nations Ambassador-designate Madeleine Albright and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, the nominee to lead the Council of Economic Advisers, went through confirmation hearings last week, but their nominations have not been voted on yet. And, of course, the job of attorney general remains vacant as President Clinton scrambles to appoint someone to replace Zoe Baird, who withdrew her name from consideration last week. So far, so good, poll finds

Like many of his predecessors, Clinton is likely to be an inveterate opinion poll-watcher, keeping a close eye on how the public views his policies. If so, the latest Newsweek magazine poll contains a mixed message for the new chief executive.

The study, which is being released today, finds that 72 percent of the 663 people surveyed believe that homosexuals can serve effectively in the armed forces. But 53 percent disagree with Clinton's stated policy of lifting the ban on gays in the military - an issue that appears certain to heat up in coming weeks.

Another poll result should cheer up Clinton: 61 percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of him, 26 percent said their opinion was "unfavorable," and 13 percent offered no opinion.

The high approval rating indicates that, like most incoming presidents, Clinton has a substantial stock of goodwill that he can draw upon early in his administration. But as President Bush learned, those positive feelings can rapidly dissipate. The wrong kind of publicity?

While a new administration takes office, an old Washington powerbroker finds himself at the center of unwanted attention. US Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois - who is invariably described as the "powerful" chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee - has been under investigation by a federal grand jury looking into alleged abuses at the House Post Office.

The latest revelation about Representative Rostenkowski's financial activities comes from the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper reported yesterday that the congressman charged taxpayers at least $68,250 to lease three vehicles that became his personal property over a five-year period.

Rostenkowski may have violated House rules that prohibit members from buying cars with their expense allowances or arranging government leases that give them an option to buy when the lease ends.

Pat Jones, a spokesman for Rostenkowski, said the congressman had done nothing wrong and had not used "campaign or taxpayers' funds to his personal advantage." `First desk' takes office

It sometimes seems that US residents are as fascinated by the minutiae of presidential life as Britons are by their royal family. For the presidency watchers out there, this should be hot news: Clinton will use the same desk in the Oval Office as Presidents Kennedy and Reagan.

The ornate desk was carved from the timbers of the HMS Resolute, a British vessel that ran aground in US waters in the 1850s. The vessel was refloated and returned to England. In gratitude, the British had a desk made from planks of the ship and gave it to the US.

And in other decorating news....

A table behind the desk holds Clinton family photos and a small copy of the famous Rodin statue "The Thinker." Pictures on the wall include portraits of Presidents Andrew Jackson and George Washington.

A light blue carpet with a gold-and-blue border and the presidential seal in the center covers the floor. Other furniture includes two gold sofas and some coffee and end tables.

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