WASHINGTON -- Dick Cheney's latest heart disease episode has led to speculation among high-level Republicans that if he is unable to complete his term as vice president, his most likely successor would be Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Cheney's replacement would be selected by President Bush, but Powell stands far above any other prospect. Powell often has made clear his lack of interest in running for elective office, but that does not preclude being appointed.
Powell clearly would strengthen the ticket for 2004, but his accession to vice president would not be welcomed by conservatives. Cheney is a steadfast advocate of traditional Republican positions inside the administration, and Powell could not be expected to fill that role.
Only Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill took President Bush literally when he urged his senior officials to decrease the number of Secret Service bodyguards around them.
O'Neill, coming to be regarded as the free spirit of the buttoned-down Bush administration, told Secret Service agents assigned to him to go home. Sources said O'Neill will use the bodyguards on international and possibly other trips but does not want them around him night and day.
A footnote: Lobbying hard to keep Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House closed to vehicular traffic, the Secret Service is pleading with Bush policymakers to watch a special video. Shown only to officials with security clearances, the video depicts a terrorist's bomb-carrying truck smashing into the White House.
NO JUDGE WHITE
Contrary to the impression given in published reports, President Bush has no intention of reappointing Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White to a federal judgeship. White, an African-American named to the federal bench by President Clinton, was rejected by a party-line vote of the Senate in October 1999.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who as a senator from Missouri led the fight against White, was asked recently by the Congressional Black Caucus whether he would support White if he were nominated by Bush. Anxious to ingratiate himself with African-Americans who bitterly opposed him for attorney general, Ashcroft said he would support the nomination.
The White House position, however, is that White no longer wants to be a federal judge and the issue is not under consideration. After putting out so much derogatory information about the judge in defense of Ashcroft, the Bush team does not want to eat their words.
President Bush so far has held only two Cabinet meetings, and one of them was described as "an out of body experience" that was of limited use.
Cabinet members were stunned at Bush's first Cabinet session shortly after he was inaugurated to see Eric Holder sitting at the table in the attorney general's seat. Holder, President Clinton's deputy attorney general and a staunch Democratic partisan, was elevated briefly to attorney general when Janet Reno resigned Jan. 18. With John Ashcroft not yet confirmed by the Senate, Bush invited Holder to attend the meeting rather than leave the Justice Department unrepresented.
When they saw Holder at the table, some Bush appointees scrambled to cover the confidential material they had brought to the meeting. At best, the dialogue was constrained.
CHRISTIE'S CLEAN AIR
Environmental Protection Administrator Christie Whitman has run into trouble with conservative Republicans because of her call for regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a pollutant. They have asked her to restudy the question.
President Bush's aides said that he is not committed by a campaign position paper that listed CO2 as a pollutant, a contention viewed by conservatives as eco-extremism. The White House has now backtracked from an incorrect statement that Bush regulated CO2 industrial emissions in Texas when he was governor.
This column erred a week ago when it reported that New Orleans lawyer Donald Ensenat, President Bush's old friend tapped to be the State Department's chief of protocol, had no diplomatic experience. He was ambassador to Brunei for the last year of the first Bush administration.