WASHINGTON -- President Bush announced Thursday he was keeping the heads of the Transportation, Interior, Housing and Labor departments, ending the major shake-up that will put new faces on three-fifths of his Cabinet in his second term.
Bush also said that Jim Nicholson, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and current U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, was his choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department. Nicholson, a decorated Vietnam veteran, would succeed Secretary Anthony Principi.
Still to be named are new heads of the Energy Department and the Health and Human Services Department.
In all, the president is replacing nine Cabinet secretaries and keeping six.
In conversations on Wednesday, Bush let Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao know of his desire that they stay on.
Bush had a similar talk with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson a few weeks ago. All accepted the president's offer, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.
Treasury Secretary John Snow and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also are remaining.
The attorney general and the secretaries of agriculture, commerce, education, energy, health and human services, homeland security, state and veterans affairs are leaving.
Bush has yet to announce anything about three of the six positions he has designated as having Cabinet rank in addition to the 15 Cabinet jobs mandated by law: the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, now Mike Leavitt; the U.S. trade representative, now Robert Zoellick; and the drug policy director, now John Walters.
The job of director of national intelligence, though not of Cabinet rank, is unfilled. Congress on Wednesday sent Bush the legislation creating the post as part of a major U.S. intelligence overhaul.
With Bush at the halfway point between his Nov. 2 re-election and the oath of office Jan. 20 for a second term, the decisions have now been made about the fates of those in the current Cabinet.
In announcing Nicholson's nomination, Bush cited Nicholson's eight years of service as a paratrooper and Army Ranger in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star Medal. Nicholson spent 22 years in the Army Reserve and retired as a full colonel. He has been the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican since 2001.
"Jim Nicholson is a patriot, a man of deep conviction who has answered his country's call many times," Bush said.
Nicholson marveled at his selection.
"When I think of growing up dirt poor in a tenant house without plumbing and sometimes without food, I marvel at America, that the boy from Struble, Iowa, may serve in the president's Cabinet. How could this happen?" Nicholson said. "For me, it is because of the opportunities my country gave me as a cadet at West Point and as a soldier. These experiences have defined my life."
Nicholson's brother, retired Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, is under secretary of Veterans Affairs. He directs the National Cemetery Administration, a system of 120 national cemeteries providing burial services for military veterans and eligible family members.
McClellan would not speculate about whom Bush would name to lead the Energy and Health departments.
McClellan's brother, Mark McClellan -- the government's Medicare chief and a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration -- is considered the top candidate to replace Secretary Tommy Thompson at Health and Human Services.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced his resignation more than three weeks ago; that a successor has not been named suggests the White House has had trouble with its search.
Among the names mentioned are Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry's trade group; Kyle McSlarrow, Abraham's deputy; former Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La.; Sen. John Breaux, D-La.; Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.; and William S. Martin, who had a top post in the Energy Department under Bush's father.