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 South Carolina).
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 James says.
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."