In the Bush administration, governing is a family matter.
Two weeks ago, the State Department announced that Elizabeth Cheney, the
vice president's daughter, would become a deputy assistant secretary of
state. Her husband, Philip Perry, last week left the Justice Department to
become chief counsel for the Office of Management and Budget. There,
Cheney's son-in-law will join OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., whose
sister, Deborah Daniels, is an assistant attorney general.
That's just the beginning. Among Deborah Daniels's colleagues at Justice is
young Chuck James, whose mother, Kay Coles James, is the director of the
Office of Personnel Management, and whose father, Charles Sr., is a top
Labor Department official. Charles James Sr.'s boss, Labor Secretary Elaine
L. Chao, knows about having family members in government: Her husband is
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and her department's top lawyer, Labor
Solicitor Eugene Scalia, is the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Everybody knows the Bush administration is famously loyal. One reason Bush
aides are like family is because some of them are family. Ken Mehlman, the
White House political director, regularly calls his younger brother Bruce,
an assistant commerce secretary, to get his input. "He's a great adviser --
I trust him like a brother," quips Ken.
Deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan recently found himself in
front of the microphones introducing a member of the president's Council of
Economic Advisers, Mark McClellan. Scott called Mark "my older, smaller
brother," and Mark replied: "Thanks, my larger brother."
The Bush administration bloodlines begin at the top and flow through the
rank and file. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is the father of Michael
Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The director of
the Federal Trade Commission's office of policy planning, Ted Cruz, is
married to a senior official in the U.S. Trade Representative's office,
Heidi Cruz. "It's a little bit like having adjoining booths at the county
fair," she says.
Also on the fairgrounds are FCC commissioner Kevin Martin, married to Cheney
aide Cathie Martin, and Cheney aide Nina Rees, spouse of White House
speechwriter Matthew Rees. The brother of National Economic Council staffer
John Ackerly begins work later this year on the president's Council of
Economic Advisers. OMB spokesman Chris Ullman served in the administration
with his wife, Kris, a Justice Department official, until the couple's
daughter was born 14 weeks ago. "She's never worked in the administration,"
he says of the infant.
Then there are the inter-branch families. Chief Justice William Rehnquist's
daughter is at the Department of Health and Human Services. Bush is now
pushing the Senate to confirm U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering as an
appellate judge. He's the father of Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr., a
Mississippi Republican. If successful, the Pickering duo would join
father-son combinations Jim Bunning (a Republican senator from Kentucky) and
David Bunning (confirmed last month as a federal judge) and Strom Thurmond
(South Carolina Republican senator) and Strom Jr. (new U.S. attorney in
All of this makes for some blending of the governmental and the familial. At
Sunday dinner, the three James officials compare notes from their various
corners of the administration. "It's a bit of a dinner debate club," Chuck
Some appointments have brought questions of nepotism. Federal law, passed
after Robert F. Kennedy was made his brother's attorney general, requires
that "a public official may not appoint, employ, promote [or] advance" a
relative in an agency "in which he is serving or over which he exercises
jurisdiction or control."
Administration officials say the appointees are qualified in their own
right. When Attorney General John D. Ashcroft welcomed the 36-year-old Perry
to the Justice Department last year, his statement didn't mention Perry's
father-in-law, instead citing Perry's "wise counsel and advice." State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher denied a report that the deputy
assistant secretary position was created for Elizabeth Cheney and said she
is "a very highly skilled individual."
Deborah Daniels said she avoids lobbying her brother, who has sway over her
agency's budget. "I have my contacts at OMB which are at a different level,
frankly, than my brother," she said. When brother and sister returned to
Indiana to celebrate Thanksgiving together, OMB was haggling with agencies
over budget requests. "There were some amusing jokes around here about what
an interesting Thanksgiving we must have had," she said.
The brothers McClellan frequently find themselves in meetings together. They
recently sent their proud mother a photo of the two of them briefing the
president. Of course, the two are all business at work -- most of the time.
"Ask Mark who is the best tennis player," Scott McClellan goads a reporter.
Mark McClellan answers defiantly: "I can factually say for the record that
he has not beaten me in more than a decade."
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, March 12, 2002; Page A19
© 2002 The Washington Post Company