Black educator Louis Sullivan appears on track to be George Bush's secretary of health and human services despite a sudden uproar over his abortion views, while Chicago transit official Samuel Skinner remains on standby for appointment as transportation secretary.
Sullivan and Bush's top aides spent a lot of time Tuesday in talks with anti-abortion leaders, assuring them that Sullivan's views were in line with those of Bush. Sullivan triggered the flap by saying in an interview he supports the right of a woman to seek an abortion - a position at odds with Bush's - but opposes the use of federal funds to pay for it.Apparently satisfied that the storm had been calmed, Bush's chief of staff, Craig Fuller, late in the day invited the four television networks in for separate interviews about Sullivan.
"Our discussions with Dr. Sullivan have been very encouraging," Fuller said. "We feel he is a very strong candidate. I think we'd like to go forward with him, and I think we're pretty close to that."
Moreover, a transition source noted that Sullivan has strong backing from Bush's wife, Barbara, a friend of Sullivan who serves on the board of Morehouse College where he is medical school president.
Meanwhile, Skinner waited again in Washington to be summoned to an announcement ceremony about the transportation post.
Skinner, chairman of the Northeastern Illinois Mass Transit Authority, was called to Washington last week for an expected announcement that was then postponed by Bush. He returned to Chicago for the week end, then was summoned back on Monday, then told by transition officials his appointment would come on Tuesday.
Transition staffers were privately joking that Skinner's trips back and forth were giving him loads of experience with problems in the airline industry, plus paying a dividend of frequent-flyer mileage.
Amid the controversy over Sullivan, Bush canceled a planned afternoon appearance for personnel announcements, avoiding questions from reporters about the abortion dispute.
Instead, he issued a written statement saying he was putting former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt and former Ohio Rep. Thomas Ashley on the National Economic Commission, a panel created by Congress to find a bipartisan strategy for cutting the budget deficit.
The appointments put the commission at its full strength of 14 people.
In another development, a Reagan administration source said Patricia Diaz Dennis, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, appeared to be emerging as the No. 1 contender for the job of labor secretary.
With a self-imposed Christmas deadline for naming his Cabinet, Bush has filled eight seats and still has six to go. If he is selected, Sullivan would be the first black in Bush's Cabinet.
Bush has yet to name a woman to a Cabinet post, although he has nominated Carla Hills to be chief trade negotiator, a job that carries Cabinet rank.> While Bush's aides insisted that Sullivan was still the top candidate for health and human services, anti-abortion leaders worked furiously to derail his expected nomination.
Rep. Bob Dornan, R-Calif., said Bush "will rue the day" he picks Sullivan. Gary Bauer, a conservative leader who was President Reagan's domestic policy adviser, said the appointment of Sullivan would be "politically stupid" because it would alienate a bloc of voters that had supported Bush.