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Bush Cabinet Shuffling

Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2004; 2:30 PM

President Bush today named National security adviser Condoleezza Rice as his new secretary of state. She will replace Colin L. Powell, who announced his resignation yesterday, ending four years of battles with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over the course of U.S. foreign policy. To date, five other Cabinet members have also announced their resignation: Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans. The administration announced last week that White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales would replace Ashcroft. Replacements were not immediately announced for the other departing Cabinet members.

Washington Post staff writer Glenn Kessler was online Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 2:30 p.m. ET, to discuss the resignations and likely direction of President Bush's second term.


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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Alexandria, Va.: One has to look at the appointment of Rice as Secretary of State, along with the soon to be anounced apointment of John Bolten as Deputy Secretary. This is a clear indication of how far right State will be going. He is a much more skillful power player than Rice and it is hard to see her controlling him. How do you see this playing out?

Glenn Kessler: Bolton is rumored as a possibility for deputy secretary of state, though nothing has been announced. He certainly has been very effective in making his case and influencing policy, even as the top people at the department--Powell and Armitage--disagreed with him. Rice might welcome someone who has been at State the past four years, and thus able to be her guide to the department.

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Chicago, Ill.: Sorry to raise what might be more of a fluff question, but before Ashcroft and Evans resigned, I'd never read a cabinet member's resignation letter before. Are they always like that? The form seems to be paragraphs of praise for the President, specific references to random pieces of legislation and other claimed accomplishments, wildly overblown statements like Ashcroft's claim that crime has been eliminated, followed by a reluctant resignation. Is there a crib sheet or something they used? Thanks.

Glenn Kessler: There is a standard format to these things though I doubt there is an actual crib sheet. When Paul O'Neill was fired as Treasury Secretary, there is funny tale: He originally was going to send the president a letter that merely said "I resign." But his PR person insisted he had to write something flowery and she drafted a letter. But he rejected that, saying he wasn't going to sign something he didn't believe. He ultimately compromised by adding a terse paragraph of saying he enjoyed the opportunity and wished Bush good luck.

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Washington, D.C.: So paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of your story today makes the point that Bush and Rice are close (paragraph 6), very close (paragraph 7) and very, very close (paragraph 8).

In emphasizing this point, were you Ricks telegraphing something that, er, that could have changed the outcome of this election? Or just repeating yourselves? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Rice's NSC Tenure Complicates New Post, (Nov. 16)

Glenn Kessler: Nothing being telegraphed. It is an extraordinary partnership between a president and staffer who had only began working for him one or two years before the election. I welcome other ways to say "close".

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Regina, Canada: I wonder whether or not the media and others are guilty of sexism in their judgement of Ms Rice. In your article you are quoted saying "many experts consider her one of the weakest national security advisers in recent history in terms of managing interagency conflicts."

Yet if that is the standard, then Kissinger is even more so a failure. During his tenure as NSA he literally destroyed the State Department's role in foreign affairs. See Seymore Hersh's book "Kissinger in the Nixon White House."

Wasn't Rice's job to make sure the President got what the president wanted? Mission accomplished?

Glenn Kessler: As the story made clear, it's the president who makes the process work, and Bush never gave Rice authority to rein in Cheney and Rumsfeld. So maybe Bush (or Cheney) got what they wanted. Certainly, Kissinger did exactly what Nixon wanted to poor William Rogers, the Secy of State.

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Bethesda, Md.: Is this the first step for Candidate Powell? How likely do you think he is to declare himself a candidate sometime in the next two or three years?

Glenn Kessler: No way. He's never going to do it and has made that very clear. You'll have to find another horse to dream about.

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Iowa: Reading the tea leaves department: Should the swift appointment of two right-wing palace loyalists to two of the most powerful Cabinet positions be viewed as an indication that this Cabinet will have little to no tolerance for divergent viewpoints?

Glenn Kessler: Bush won the election, and loyalty is what counts in his book. Ceratinly the White House has felt State was sometimes out of control under Powell. Nevertheless, bad news sometimes has a way of letting divergent viewpoints be heard (not to mention leaks to the newspapers!)

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Bethesda, Md.: Mr. Powell has frequently said that he works at the pleasure of the commander in chief. Can we assume from his resignation that it no longer pleased the commander to retain his services?

Also, assuming that Rice is not approved by the Congress (not such a stretch, given the bipartisan 9/11 Commission's report), who else might get the nod?

Glenn Kessler: With 55 Republican senators Rice's nomination is assured. And, yes, it seems clear that Bush--and probably Powell--was ready for a change.

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Bethesda, Md.: How will Rice be received as Secretary of State in countries that she lied so straight-faced to concerning alleged Iraqi WMDs (see the aluminum tubes truth that she sat on for a year, the yellowcake hogwarsh and the incendiary mushroom cloud comments when Saddam had none of the elements in place needed for such). While Americans apparently accept, and even respect, being able to lie through one's teeth as a twisted form of "strength," more mature nations abroad aren't as warm to the concept. I'm skeptical that she'll be able to get past customs in foreign airports.

Glenn Kessler: Once she's secretary of State, countries will have to deal with her. "The past is the past," as some WH officials are known to say.

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Greensboro, N.C.: What do you make of so many top administration members resigning all at once? Many suspected that Powell would resign and Aschcroft, but now we have several other cabinet members leaving.

Is there something going on within the Bush administration that has turned the stomachs of many of his own people? I remember about two years ago there seemed to have been a pattern of resignations happening (including Ari Fleischer) every few months.

Glenn Kessler: actually, Bush's cabinet has been relatively stable the past four years--only two cabinet members left. So there is bound to be turnover. If more than 9 cabinet members quit, however, Bush will have set a new record.

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Washington, D.C.: Condi has a history of conforming to the milieu in which she finds herself. In Bush I she was a classical realist. As provost at Stanford she was relatively liberal in her outlook on academic issues. At the NSC in Bush II she was subsumed by Cheney/Rumsfeld. Do you think she will drink the kool-aid at Foggy Bottom and become a more forceful advocate of classical national interest multilateralism?

Glenn Kessler: As the worst State Dept cables say: " Time will tell."

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Washington, D.C.: Any idea how effective Rice will be as a diplomat? She certainly has experience studying/analyzing foreign affairs, but her interpersonal skills (public appearances, personnel management) have seemed lackluster during the first term.

Glenn Kessler: I agree that she needs to work more on her public presentation. Even the neocons who didn't like Powell marveled at hjis ability to articulate a public position and spin it forward just enough to advance the agenda. He was a real master at it. Rice hasn't shown that ability--she is very frustrating to interview--but she may develop the talent as it is required.

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Washington, D.C.: As a State employee, I can say that many of us are pleased to see Powell go. We got new computers and little else under his tenure. We need someone who will advocate for intelligent foreign policy. Powell couldn't and Rice won't. State is screwed and many know it and are planning their escapes.

Glenn Kessler: interesting comment. I have certainly heard that people are concerned about the incoming team, but I had heard less griping about Powell.

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Fairfax, Va.: Impact of appointment on Middle East? Any further changes expected in the State Department once Dr. Rice is in office?

Glenn Kessler: There will be a complete turnover in almost all the top positions. As for the Middle east, there is an opening now that Arafat died....the question is whether and how the administration will seize it. Rice managed the Israel portfolio in the first term--not Powell--so she should have her own ideas about what needs to be done.

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Other way to say close...: How about BFF?

All joking aside, Dr. Rice is a rock star, and I only hope she can turn the State Department into an organization who actually supports the President, given the fact they ARE part of the Executive Branch.

Glenn Kessler: thanks for your comment

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Apart from his muted influence in the administration, friends in the State Department have told me that Powell was an excellent manager of his people, of his organization, and of the diplomatic corps.

What is Ms. Rice's resume in terms of being a competent manager of such a large organization? Has she ever headed any organization anywhere near the size of the State Department? I believe that the NSA is a fairly small organization in comparison -- what are the reviews of her performance of a manager there?

Glenn Kessler: she was provost--essentially chief operating officer--of Stanford university. That was likely more akin to the management challenge she will face at State.

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Chicago, Ill.: Hi Mr. Kessler -- could you define, for us non-specialists outside the Beltway, what you meant when you referred to Colin Powell's brand of "moderate realism" as distinguished from, say, Cheney's or Bush's foreign policy outlook? Thanks again for your work.

Glenn Kessler: "realism" in the foreign policy sense means you deal with countries on their terms, trying to advance U.S. interests but not necessarily changing the internal dynamic of those countries. Brent Scowcroft, the first Bush's NSA, is a realist. So is Kerry to a great extent. Cheney and Rumsfeld tend to be "neoconservatives"--more willing to challenge the established order and force changes in the governmental structures of other countries, through invasion if necessary.

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Boston, Mass.: It seems weird to me that the first black woman serving as Secretary of State has not garnered more attention about race relations in public life. If she was a Democrat, there would be a huge celebration. Since she is a Republican, there seems to be a huge shrug of the shoulders from the media.

Agree or disagree?

Glenn Kessler: I disagree. She's been around for a while and already held a top post, so no one is surprised to hear she is a black woman. I think it was widely noted at the start of Bush's first term that the president had two blacks in his two top foreign policy slots.

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Chicago, Ill.: Your answer to one of the Bethesda questions, about Senate confirmation, begs the question -- are any GOP Senators publicly criticizing the Rice nomination? Can she expect full Republication support at her hearing? I can't imagine that they all think she's a good candidate for the job. Thanks.

Glenn Kessler: it's a honeymoon period and though privately some are skeptical no one is willing to say it publicly.

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Arlington, Va.: Is Powell going to write a "tell all" a la O'Neill? It would be interesting to see what he really thought at the time leading up to the war and how much his arm had to be twisted.

Glenn Kessler: He says he plans no more books. My colleague, Karen DeYoung, is writing a biography on Powell so I am hopeful she will get to the real, inside story that obviously many people are eager for.

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Arlington, Va.: It would seem herding factulty members at an elite university would be good training for herding folks in Foggy Bottom. I guess I wonder whether "State Department employees being unhappy" needs to be put in context with the problems at CIA. Dilettantes rarely like to be managed and often bristle when someone clamps down. Just as at the CIA, couldn't new change be good for a department that has become increasingly irrelevant and ineffective?

Glenn Kessler: Change is good for any organization, i would agree.

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West end: Any word on other possible resignations? Elaine Chao at Labor would appear to be the likeliest resignation.

Glenn Kessler: Ridge, Thompson and Mineta are the hot names at the moment.

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Arlington, Va.: One gets the impression that the rank and file who do the real work at State aren't likely to be thrilled with their new boss. How much of a fight will she have to win them over or at least get them to do what she wants them to do?

Glenn Kessler: That's a story I will be following in the coming months.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I'm sure there are many asking this: what about Rumsfeld? Even people who supported the war can acknowledge that there were serious shortcomings and failures in that undertaking, and it's the Defense Secretary who -- short of the President -- is ultimately responsible for what happened at Abu Graib. There is a real injustice in Powell departing while Rumsfeld remains. Only one of them bears any clear responsibility for major failures in policy and strategy.

Glenn Kessler: The Post editorial made that same point this morning. But I think the calculation was that getting rid of Rumsfeld would be viewed as too much an admission of failure.

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Boston, Mass.: Tension is highly overrated.

I am glad the President went with a close ally, Rice.

Glenn Kessler: thanks for your comment

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Munich, Germany: Colin Powell was very much admired in Europe as the voice of reason and diplomacy in the U.S. Although there were criticisms regarding Powell's purported spinelessness, I can only say that Powell's continued presence in the Bush administration was far more helpful than his resignation would have been.

I've read that Ms. Rice is an expert on Soviet Russia, but how do you think that she'll fare with current European diplomacy?

Glenn Kessler: The administration is giving all sorts of signals they want to fix things with Europe, and certainly Europe will need to deal with Bush, like it or not, for the next four years. So the seeds are there for some growth in the relationship.

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Brunswick, Maine: How hard do you think Senate Democrats will push Condoleezza Rice in her confirmation hearing on her lack of attention to Richard Clarke's warnings of possible terrorists attacks in the U.S. prior to 9/11, and on her inability to manage the inter-agency process on issues like North Korea and Iran? Will they try to set up an "I told you so" scenario given her baggage, and the esteem in which she is not held within the State Department and internationally?

Glenn Kessler: expect some tough questions from the Dems.

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Washington, D.C.: A New York Times' article several months ago said that Ms. Rice, prior to the U. S. presenting its WMD case to the U.N., knew about, but did not act on, American intelligence analysts' consensus that the Iraqi aluminum tubes were not for making WMD. Do you think this issue will be raised in her confirmation hearing or will it be consigned to the dustbin of (very recent) history, another unintended consequence of Bush's "mandate."

Glenn Kessler: it will be raised, that's for sure. But she will be confirmed.

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Alexandria, Va.: So when will Rumsfeld announce his resignation? Rumor I heard was that Rumsfeld and Powell were each waiting for the other one to resign first. One down -- other shoe dropping soon?

Glenn Kessler: Rumsfeld seems to be staying-- at least for the time being.

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Arlington, Va.: Why didn't Colin Powell resign earlier? Or why didn't Bush replace him? It seems like Powell has been extremely marginalized in the Administration. His opinions were ignored, and Bush really just wanted someone to agree with him on all fronts.

Glenn Kessler: Powell never considered resigning. It's not in his nature. He believes he serves the president, who was elected.

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Glenn Kessler: Thanks for all your questions. Sorry I can answer them all but I have to get back to work!

Glenn Kessler

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