President Bush said yesterday that he will spend the weekend considering changes in his Cabinet for his second term, feeding speculation inside and outside the White House over shake-ups in key agencies in coming weeks.
As part of what Bush called a "great Washington sport," Republicans, including several in the administration, predicted numerous impending Cabinet changes that could strongly influence U.S. policy over the next four years.
President Bush meets with his Cabinet at the White House for the first time since being reelected.
(Ron Edmonds -- AP)
Post reporter Jim VandeHei discusses the likely changes in President Bush's cabinet over the next couple of months.
The Post's Dana Milbank reviews President Bush's news conference.
The most intense speculation centers on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, whose rumored retirement would reconfigure the war team and perhaps lead to a broader reshuffling of Bush's national security team. Powell, however, has told friends he might stay for a few months or well into next year.
Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security, has told his friends he is likely to depart at the beginning of next year, people who know him said.
The domestic agencies might see more major changes, administration officials said. While a few Cabinet heads, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, are rethinking retirement plans in the wake of the GOP's triumph in Tuesday's election, several departures are considered highly likely in the weeks and months ahead. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft tops this list. He wants to leave for health and personal reasons , and the White House would like to replace him, a person who recently spoke with Ashcroft said.
Cabinet secretaries planning to leave have been told to inform the president in the next few weeks. "It's inevitable there will be changes," Bush told reporters yesterday. "It happens in every administration."
Current and former administration officials said the departures will be staggered over the next nine months, because Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. believes that Bush would not be able to pursue the aggressive legislative agenda he has planned with a Cabinet filled with acting secretaries and his nominees awaiting confirmation.
"Even people who really, really, really want to go have been told they may have to wait," said a former administration official privy to the conversations. "Andy will not let everyone walk out the door at once."
White House officials said Bush also wants to avoid too much simultaneous turnover because of the ever-present possibility of a terrorist attack.
A presidential adviser who has spoken about the impending shuffle with West Wing aides said Bush does not plan high-profile nominations but will continue his pattern of naming Cabinet secretaries who -- with the notable exception of his national security team -- attract little public attention.
"The Bush brand is a few priorities, run out of the White House, with no interference from the Cabinet," the official said. "The Cabinet does not need a new face because it has no face. The function of the Bush Cabinet is to provide a chorus of support for White House policies and technical expertise for implementing them. It's like the Nixon Cabinet, without the scandal."
Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, have long been expected to leave the administration when Bush's first term ends. Powell is highly popular among the career diplomats at the State Department and publicly has remained coy about his plans, saying he "serves at the pleasure of the president."
But associates and friends say he has often expressed frustration with his limited influence in foreign policy under Bush and a desire to step down after four years on the job. Armitage, Powell's closest friend, has told associates he will stay at the State Department as long as Powell does and not one day more.
The leading candidate to replace Powell appears to be U.N. Ambassador John C. Danforth, a former senator and an ordained minister popular with the religious conservatives who helped provide Bush's margin of victory.