President-elect Bush, his Cabinet all but completed, headed for Texas Monday to begin his annual post-Christmas quail hunting trip at the 10,000-acre ranch of one of his close friends.
Bush departed from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington bound for Beeville, Texas, where he plans to spend four days at the Lazy-F Ranch. He plans to return to Washington Thursday after stopping over in Montgomery, Ala., for a couple of hours of fishing.The hunting trip - a ritual Bush has followed for 20 years - begins two days after Bush named his 13th Cabinet member, Elizabeth Dole, as labor secretary. The surprise nomination means that only two top-level jobs, energy secretary, and drug czar, both Cabinet-level posts, remain open.
Bush, who had earlier set a self-imposed Christmas deadline to name his Cabinet, was unperturbed about the vacancies.
"I still think we're ahead of schedule," he said, predicting he would fill the energy slot "in a week or so."
"This one is a very critical one . . . because of the attention to some of the nuclear-related problems. I am not going to be under the gun on this last one to meet a timetable of some sort."
Among those mentioned for the energy post are Peter Johnson, the former head of the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Ore.; former Louisiana Rep. Henson Moore, and Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, head of the Strategic Defense Initiative operation at the Pentagon.
With the Cabinet just about complete, Bush said that when he returns he'll start focusing on "the first hundred days, on legislative initiatives, on working with the secretaries-designate" to come up with policies.
The hunting trip, an all-male affair at the ranch owned by Houston millionaire Will Farish, is a private excursion. Bush brushed aside any criticism of the sport.
Asked whether quail hunting was humane, Bush replied jokingly, "The way I shoot it, it's very humane."
He also said there were "some ferocious, aggressive birds there. If these birds, if they're not, as we call `harvested,' in the conservation movement, why then there's an oversupply that results in terrible famine and imbalance in nature. So I will try to contribute to this ecological balance."
Mrs. Bush will remain in the nation's capital, packing up her house for the move to the White House next month.
On Sunday, Christmas Day, the couple, who are Episcopalian, worshipped in a black Baptist church, and Bush pronounced the service "beautiful." Bush and his wife joined with obvious enjoyment as the choir sang the ringing "Hallelujah Chorus."
Bush's selection of Dole, the first female to be named to a full Cabinet post, was applauded by members of Congress and labor leaders. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, called Dole "an excellent choice."
Dole, 52, is the wife of Senate minority leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who waged an unsuccessful campaign against Bush for the GOP presidential nomination last year.