Labor Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole resigned yesterday, the first member of President Bush's Cabinet to depart.
Dole, the highest-ranking woman in the Bush administration, said that after 25 years of government service, she was looking forward to focusing on humanitarian causes at her new job as president of the American Red Cross.
She denied she had been frozen out by White House policy-makers. Aides and union leaders have said she had little clout at Bush's Cabinet table, and many labor policy decisions were left to Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.
"I can't imagine who was saying this. . . . Most definitely, I feel very much a part of the circle that's making the decisions here at the White House," Dole said after announcing her resignation with Bush at her side.
Later, in an interview, Dole labeled those reports "totally erroneous."
"It's been a wonderful relationship," she said of her ties to the White House. On her issues, "I'm the one carrying the ball, I'm the one developing the strategy," she said.
Dole, 54, wife of Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), said she had "no plans to run for anything," although she did not rule out a future bid for political office. Rumors abound that she might run in 1992 for the Senate seat now held by Democrat Terry Sanford of her native North Carolina, or for governor of that state.
Bush said Dole had "earned the respect of the American people and as secretary of labor has made the workplace safer, healthier and more secure."
Four women are among those who have been mentioned as possible successors. They are Constance Newman, head of the Office of Personnel Management; Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), should she lose her bid for the Senate in the Nov. 6 election; Elaine Chao, who holds the No. 2 job at the Transportation Department; and Constance Horner, undersecretary at the Health and Human Services Department.