THE Senate can't formally confirm President-elect Clinton's Cabinet appointees until Jan. 20, but legislators are swinging into action to expedite the process.
Among the Cabinet appointees who will undergo confirmation hearings this week are Defense Secretary-designate Les Aspin, Transportation Secretary-designate Federico Pena, Labor Secretary-designate Robert Reich, and Commerce Secretary-designate Ron Brown.
Many Republicans are still hopping mad about the harsh treatment President Bush's first nominee for secretary of defense, John Tower, received in the Senate in 1989 - and they are determined to subject the Democratic appointees to similar scrutiny. Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi is leading the GOP's research into nominees' backgrounds.
Mr. Brown is expected to become an early target. As a partner in the Washington law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow, he represented the government of Haiti and its former dictator, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier. Another possible target is Donna Shalala, the nominee for secretary of health and human services. As chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, she instituted a disciplinary code forbidding "harassing" speech on campus - a move that has led many to see her as an avatar of political correctness. Where will he go next? Houston, perhaps?
As he leaves office, President Bush will have at least one consolation: plenty of frequent-flier miles. The president, always a peripatetic traveler, completed his final journey in office late Sunday night - a 19,000-mile odyssey that took him from Saudi Arabia to Somalia to Russia to France. As usual, Mr. Bush - who clearly felt uncomfortable on the campaign trail - appeared at ease in foreign surroundings.
On New Year's Day, for example, the president visited marines in Mogadishu, Somalia. He shook hands with hundreds of soldiers and waved to crowds of admiring Somalis - and never once complained about the 100-degree heat, the clouds of choking red clay dust stirred up by his heavily guarded motorcade, and the choppy helicopter rides that flew him from stop to stop. Send the iguanas, hold the cookies
The downside of being president is that you are subjected to relentless press scrutiny, forced to fight endless battles on Capitol Hill, and confronted with a constant need to keep your popularity ratings high. On the plus side: You get lots of neat stuff.
Clinton transition headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., has been inundated with unsolicited gifts for the president-elect. Among the more unconventional gifts the president-elect has received are a box of plastic iguanas, pansy seeds, Elvis Presley T-shirts, and a handmade clock. One fan sent Mr. Clinton an artistic interpretation of his "New Covenant" campaign theme: an oil painting of an angel with ribbons reading, "Hope," "Responsibility," and "Community."
Many well-wishers have sent goodies to the president-elect, ranging from chocolate-chip ice cream to shortbread cookies. However, the Secret Service won't allow him to eat the unsolicited food. The bodyguards claim it's for security reasons - but it also helps Clinton to win "the battle of the bulge."