Rice, Gonzales, Spellings step-up as cabinet exodus continues

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – As cool winter winds sweep away the last of the fall leaves, the political landscape finds that it, too, changes with the season — the Bush cabinet of the last four years has been drastically altered as six of its 15 members resign, with more to expected to follow.

History provides few parallels to such a massive cabinet shake-up, as Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Education Secretary Rod Paige all resigned within the past two weeks.

The first was Ashcroft, the controversial figure who was both praised and assailed for his promotion of the USA Patriot Act, his denial of legal rights to Guantanamo Bay detainees, and his decision to subpoena private hospital records of abortion patients as a way to enforce the late-term abortion ban.

“The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved,” said Ashcroft in a five-page handwritten letter to Bush, dated Nov. 2. “Yet I believe that the Department of Justice would be well served by new leadership and fresh inspiration.”

President Bush nominated current White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to Ashcroft’s post. With a Republican majority in Congress, Gonzales, 49, is likely to be confirmed, which would make him the first Hispanic attorney general in U.S. history.

On national security and civil liberty issues, Gonzales’s views are similar to Ashcroft’s — he advocates expanding the power of the executive branch and helped write parts of the Patriot Act. In a 2002 memo to Bush, he suggested that Geneva Conventions were not applicable to the interrogation of terrorists, a memo that was the cause for much outrage after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. Yet social issues Gonzales holds moderate stances on abortion and affirmative action, which has unsettled some conservatives.

The next major change was Monday’s resignation of Powell and the appointment of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to his post. Unlike Powell, Rice is not expected to challenge the administration on foreign policy issues as she shares a close relationship and a near identical policy views with Bush. Rice’s deputy Stephen J. Hadley is likely to be named as her successor. If confirmed, Rice would be the first African American woman to fill the post.

“With Powell, there was a sense that he acted at least somewhat independently from Bush, and I don’t think that this is going to be true of Rice,” said Nikole Yinger, junior at the George Washington University. “But she is clearly very intelligent and quick on her feet, so I don’t think that his resignation is going to pose a significant problem.”

Powell, whose long history of public service is admired by many, spent most of his efforts on maintaining allied friendships, many oh which were tremendously strained by the war on Iraq and undermined by unilateralist ambitions within the administration. According to friends, Powell was “worn down” and “tired of his battles with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld” reports the New York Times.

Wednesday Bush announced his choice of Domestic Policy Adviser Margaret Spellings to replace Paige. Her relationship with Bush dates back to 1994, when she served as political director for his campaign for governor. She played a key role in creating the No Child Left Behind Act, and has the support of the National School Boards Association — a group that Paige repeatedly clashed with, having referred to them recently as a “terrorist organization.”

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