Bush nominates Leavitt for HHS position
US President Bush nominated Environmental Protection Agency chief Michael Leavitt on Monday to become his secretary of health and human services, to replace Tommy Thompson, who resigned.
Leavitt, a former governor of Utah, has been administrator of the EPA for little more than a year. If confirmed by the Senate, he will become head of a department grappling with the high cost of health care and seeking ways to make prescription drugs cheaper.
"I've come to know Mike as a fine executive, as a man of great compassion. He's an ideal choice to lead one of the largest departments of the United States government," Bush said in announcing Leavitt, 53.
He said Leavitt would take over at a critical time, with a Medicare prescription drug benefit on the way, Medicaid spending at a record and millions without health insurance.
"I look forward to learning more about Gov. Leavitt's ideas for running this important agency," he said.
Vermont Independent Sen. James Jeffords said he hoped Leavitt "will be able to move forward to protect human health and the environment, rather than repeat the poor record of the Bush administration over the past four years."
Leavitt said he would join Bush in pushing to reduce damages from malpractice lawsuits and seeking other ways to cut health care costs.
"I'm persuaded that we can use technology and innovation to meet our most noble aspirations and not compromise our other values that we hold so dear," he said.
The choice of Leavitt came near the end of Bush's selection of his team for his second term, a process that hit an embarrassing obstacle on Friday with the sudden withdrawal of Bernard Kerik for consideration as secretary of homeland security.
Kerik cited questions over the immigration status of a housekeeper and nanny he employed, but he appeared to have other issues as well.
The New York Daily News reported on Monday that Kerik, a former New York police commissioner, was conducting two extramarital affairs at the same time. There were also reports about connections he had to a construction company with alleged ties to the mob.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended vetting procedures that allowed Kerik to be nominated before a thorough background investigation was completed.
He indicated it was up to Kerik to provide some information about the household help to help the process along.
"In that process, we rely, to some degree, on that candidate to provide us with all the information we need to complete that phase of the vetting process," he said.
He also said Bush was not upset with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for recommending Kerik. Bush and Giuliani and their wives had dinner at the White House on Sunday night, and Giuliani apologized, which McClellan said was unnecessary.
A search is now under way for a replacement for Tom Ridge as secretary of homeland security. Among candidates were Asa Hutchison, the undersecretary of homeland security, Fran Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, and the former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joe Allbaugh.
A candidate for replacing Leavitt as EPA administrator was the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, James Connaughton.
In announcing Leavitt, Bush cited his record as a governor deeply involved in welfare reform.
The choice was applauded by both John Nelson, president of the American Medical Association, and Dick Davidson, president of the American Hospital Association, while the Physicians for Social Responsibility expressed disappointment.
"As administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he consistently undercut and failed to enforce regulations to protect public health," the group said.