During President Bush's first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it's official.
Rove, the political mastermind behind two presidential elections, yesterday was named White House deputy chief of staff in charge of coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, national security and homeland security.
For a man who spent a lifetime in the business of polls and campaign strategy, it is an expansive portfolio cutting across virtually the entire policy spectrum. But many in the White House said the new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.
The shifting responsibilities reflected a broader retrofit of the White House that Bush largely completed yesterday as he retooled his staff to focus on his ambitious second-term agenda of restructuring Social Security, rewriting the tax code and spreading democracy around the world. With no more elections in his future, Bush moved his key strategist into a new more simplified chain of command focused on legislative markups rather than electoral college math, while also shuffling other top jobs in the West Wing.
The move arose out of discontent by Bush and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. with what they considered a vacuum in the policy staff after the 2003 departure of Joshua B. Bolten to the Office of Management and Budget, a White House adviser said. "Since Josh Bolten went to OMB, the policy process has been a little bit loose and hasn't had the kind of discipline it used to," the adviser said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect relations with the White House. "Karl can do that."
Democrats saw the appointment as confirmation of their long-standing theory that Rove serves as the behind-the-scenes Svengali driving government decisions for political considerations. The Democratic National Committee issued a list of episodes and accusations intended to illustrate what it called "Roveian dirty tricks and skullduggery."
"Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions," DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said in a statement. "Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he's simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way."
White House officials emphasized that Rove will coordinate rather than manage the various policy councils and noted that responsibility for intelligence and defense matters would be shifted to the other deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin. They said the new role was a smart fit for Rove, whom they called better versed on policy than the public understands. "I don't think people realize how much of a wonk Karl is," said Michael J. Gerson, a senior Bush adviser. "He's more up on more issues than anyone at the White House."
"Karl's always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side," Bolten said in an interview. "He's better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off."
The Rove announcement capped a season of rebuilding at the White House after the November election. In the three months since, Bush has installed a new domestic policy chief, economic adviser, national security adviser, counsel, communications director, chief speechwriter and political director, among others.
The White House announced yesterday that Gerson, chief speechwriter in the first term, will serve as a policy and strategic planning adviser, to be replaced by former Wall Street Journal editorial writer William McGurn. Bush also named campaign strategist Sara Taylor political director and broadened the portfolio of policy adviser Kristen Silverberg.
Deputy press secretary Claire Buchan will leave the White House on Friday to become chief of staff to incoming Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez; she will be replaced by Dana Perino, communications director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Many of the new top advisers traded up to loftier assignments. Gerson, for instance, will still work on major speeches such as the State of the Union but will give up responsibility for the two or three small events on the president's public schedule every day to develop strategy on domestic policies such as Bush's faith-based initiatives and AIDS as well as his new commitment to promoting freedom in repressive parts of the world.
Gerson has had a larger role in policy than most speechwriters. "He was a real intellectual leader in shaping some of the domestic and foreign policy themes" of the first term, Bolten said. "It just means that he'll have more time to focus on some of the broad policy that he helped develop."
Rove has long hoped to make the transition from being seen as a purely political strategist to a broader counselor on substance. In taking on the job of deputy chief of staff, Rove will keep his first-term title of senior adviser but now will fall directly under Card and be responsible for managing a complicated and often bureaucratic policy process. Sources close to the White House said two other Bush advisers, Tim Adams and Jay Lefkowitz, were considered for the job before Bush turned to Rove.
Steven Ricchetti, who held the same job in President Bill Clinton's second term, said it made sense to integrate Rove into the organization chart since he carries such influence anyway. "That looks like a smart thing to do," he said. "I suspect they're collapsing much of the political operation into what they're trying to do on the legislative front."
Paul C. Light, a scholar on government at the Brookings Institution, said he wonders whether Rove might find the role constraining. "He could live to regret the accretion of power and responsibilities," Light said.