President Bush yesterday named longtime friend and former Texas lottery official Harriet Miers to be the chief White House lawyer.

Miers, 59, once described by Bush as "a pit bull in size 6 shoes," came to Washington with Bush in 2001 and served as staff secretary and a deputy chief of staff during the president's first term. As White House counsel, she will succeed Alberto R. Gonzales, recently nominated to be attorney general.

The appointment continues a pattern by Bush of promoting confidants and close aides to prominent positions; others have been dispatched to the State, Justice and Education departments and to the Republican National Committee.

Miers's appointment also makes her the most prominent woman on a White House staff that has lost most of its senior women. With the departure of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings, Miers is one of three women to serve as top-level Bush aides. Early in Bush's first term, there were eight women in top staff jobs, including Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and Margaret Tutwiler.

"She is a talented lawyer whose great integrity, legal scholarship and grace have long marked her as one of America's finest lawyers," Bush said in a written statement.

The appointment of Miers came as a minor surprise in an administration teeming with legal talent. She was selected over Brett M. Kavanaugh, one of the administration's celebrated young lawyers, who has been waiting for confirmation hearings on his appointment to be an appellate judge.

But Miers has experience defusing scandal, a potentially useful asset for a White House dealing with several high-profile legal investigations, including one concerning the leaking of a CIA operative's identity. As chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission, she led the lottery through controversy in 1997, firing the executive director after it was revealed that a friend of the director won a consulting contract from the company operating the lottery.

A graduate of Southern Methodist University and its law school and a lawyer in Dallas, Miers became one of the managing partners of Locke Liddell & Sapp after a 1998 merger made that firm the sixth largest in the state. Miers served on the Dallas City Council.

A White House spokesman said Miers was not granting interviews yesterday. Miers, who is unmarried, built a reputation for cool intensity while serving as Bush's gatekeeper early in his term. Her status as friend and adviser to Bush when he was a candidate and Texas governor has made her one of his favorite aides and earned her invitations to Camp David.

Giving Miers a legal award in 1996, Bush said that "when it comes to a cross-examination, she can fillet better than Mrs. Paul."

Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was sounded out Friday by Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, about becoming secretary of agriculture, Senate sources said. In remarks to reporters, Nelson declined to say whether he had been offered the job or whether would take it. According to CNN, some Democrats said the administration may be trying to open the Nebraska Senate seat to a Republican.

Harriet Miers, a Texas lawyer, becomes the most prominent woman on the president's payroll.