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Senate confirms Bush choices for agriculture, education

WASHINGTON -- The Senate celebrated President Bush's inauguration yesterday by confirming the first two new members of his Cabinet, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Senators plan to confirm Carlos Gutierrez as commerce secretary on Monday and Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state on Wednesday.

Spellings and Johanns were confirmed on a voice vote hours after Bush took the oath of office.

Senators said Johanns, who was governor of Nebraska, was the perfect person for the job given his experience running a state with deep agricultural interests. "We could not have made a better choice," said Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas.

Spellings was Bush's domestic policy chief. "I believe Margaret Spellings has the knowledge, the commitment, and the leadership to improve the quality of education across our land," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Republicans wanted to confirm Rice yesterday but Democrats objected. Several Democrats want to debate Rice's nomination first, which could extend the process for at least two days.

Harry Reid, the minority leader, said Rice told him during the inaugural ceremonies that she would not be hurt by that debate.

"She said her main goal was to make sure she was confirmed by the time of the president's State of the Union speech because she has a trip scheduled to go oversees after that," Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said. "This confirmation will take place at the latest sometime Wednesday, so she'll be able to make that with a long time to spare."

Bush's choice for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is expected to get a vote from the Senate in the next two weeks.

The State of the Union speech is scheduled for Feb. 2.

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