AUSTIN, Texas — George W. Bush is “on track” in planning a new government, one that would include Democrats in key positions, aides suggested Tuesday. Still, continuing legal clouds subdued some of Bush’s optimism.
“We are now in uncharted waters,” said Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes. “We’re in an unprecedented period where a presidential candidate is going to court essentially to try to contest and overturn the results of an election that has now been certified.”
She told reporters during an afternoon briefing at campaign headquarters that Bush continues to insist he not be called “president elect” because of the current court challenges by Democratic rival Al Gore.
“The governor has asked us all to be humble and to be gracious,” she said.
“We are mindful of the fact that the vice president...a little more than an hour ago reiterated that he is continuing in court to challenge the legitimate outcome of the election,” she said after Gore discussed his continuing battle in a nationally televised appearance.
Bush also visited the headquarters Tuesday but steered clear of a roomful of reporters who came to attend the Hughes briefing. Instead, he greeted campaign staff members and volunteers. Bush then prepared to spend the next few days on his ranch in Crawford, about a two-hour drive north of here. Since Election Day, Bush has divided his time between the governor’s mansion here and the secluded 1,500-acre ranch.
Running mate Dick Cheney, who is overseeing transition planning, was to join in at the ranch later in the week.
“They will be discussing transition efforts,” said Ari Fleischer, Bush’s transition spokesman.
But Bush aides said that it appears unlikely that Bush will name any prospective Cabinet appointments before the Supreme Court has a chance to hear the case Friday.
Colin Powell, Bush’s known choice to be secretary of state, was reluctant to participate in any such announcement while so many legal issues remain to be resolved, aides said.
Still, Bush pressed ahead in planning behind the scenes for a transition to power, meeting on Tuesday first at his residence and later at his state capitol office with Andrew Card, his prospective White House chief of staff.
Card later told reporters that the two discussed prospective appointments — and that some candidates for top Bush jobs might be brought to Texas later this week.
Asked about whether Bush could meet a Jan. 4 timetable suggested by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to begin confirmation hearings, Card said, “Obviously, we want to have names presented such that they can be considered by the Senate. We’re on track.”
Card said that Bush clearly intends to reach out to Democrats in forming a government because of the closeness of the election. But he refused to respond to a question on whether former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., was among those Democrats being considered.
Nunn, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was viewed as a possible Bush choice for defense secretary.
“He had Democrats serving in his administration in Texas, as well as Republicans,” Card earlier told CNN. “And I think you can expect him to do the same in leading the country.”
Cheney said much the same thing earlier Tuesday when he appeared on NBC’s “Today” Show.
“The governor has given me instructions to look in those areas,” he said. “We clearly will.”
The Texas governor, meanwhile, picked up one of the trappings of the presidency: a promise from the Clinton White House for daily national security briefings.
Such CIA briefings, with Gore currently gets as vice president, were promised in a Monday evening phone call between Card and the man he would replace: White House chief of staff John Podesta.
Podesta said he and Card “discussed how we could move forward.”
White House press secretary Jake Siewert said Podesta and Card had a “cordial” conversation.
“John offered to meet with him and offered to meet with him either with the vice president’s transition staff or separately,” Siewert said. “We’ll be happy to arrange such a meting to give them an overview of where we are in the transition.”
While supporting the federal General Services Administration’s decision against releasing funds or office space to Bush for a transition, Siewert said the White House was waiting for the Justice Department to complete a formal written opinion on the Presidential Transition Act.
Siewert said the transition coordinating council, which the president created by executive order, was expected to meet Wednesday to help the next president ease into office. He also said that national security adviser Sandy Berger would follow up with the Bush team to arrange Bush’s daily national security briefings.
The Secret Service, like the GSA, was not ready to acknowledge any winner. Officials said the Secret Service was proceeding with “parallel” transition operations — giving both the Democratic and Republican tickets the same training sessions, briefings, and help securing personal property for the move into the White House or vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory.
Bush also placed a call to incoming Mexican president Vincente Fox on Tuesday to congratulate him in advance of his Dec. 1 inauguration, aides said.