Hughes Is Set to Rejoin White House Team

President Bush listens to Karen P. Hughes, seen as Bush's virtual alter ego who understands how he thinks better than any other adviser.
President Bush listens to Karen P. Hughes, seen as Bush's virtual alter ego who understands how he thinks better than any other adviser. (Gary Hershorn - Reuters)
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005

Karen P. Hughes, the longtime adviser to President Bush often described as the most powerful woman ever to work in the White House, plans to return to Washington soon to rejoin the president's team as he sets forth on an ambitious second-term agenda, according to White House officials and outside Republican advisers.

Seen as a virtual alter ego for Bush who understands how he thinks better than any other adviser, Hughes helped the president build his administration as his counselor in the first term before her surprise resignation in April 2002 to return to Texas with her family. Her forceful presence and physical stature helped cement her position as a key player in any policy decision.

Hughes has continued to advise Bush from her home in Texas, particularly on major speeches and communications strategies, and she traveled with him during the most difficult days of last year's campaign. But now that her son Robert is preparing to head to college this fall, she is ready to return to Washington for more than several days a week to work for the president, although she will not move the family home, according to sources familiar with her plans.

The White House declined to comment on the move, and the advisers who confirmed it refused to be identified because the decision is not scheduled to be announced until next week. The sources said Hughes will not be a formal member of the White House staff but will take on a specific and particularly important assignment involving international affairs, but they would not identify it.

Hughes did not return messages left at her home, office and e-mail address.

Bush faces a variety of high-priority challenges on the international front in the development of strategy and message that Hughes could help tackle. In his inaugural address in January, Bush laid out an expansive vision for promoting democracy in the Middle East and other places, with the goal of "ending tyranny in our world." In a speech this week, he hailed what he saw as a democratic "thaw" beginning in the Arab world, and his advisers have been contemplating how to encourage reforms in the region. The administration has also sought ways to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world as a way to undercut support for terrorism.

At the same time, Bush is still trying to manage the war in Iraq, where insurgents continue to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces and U.S. commanders are searching for an exit strategy that would allow troops to begin coming home. And Bush has promised a major new push to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians.

Several Republicans close to the White House were heartened at word of Hughes's return. "Obviously, she's far and away the president's inner voice in many ways," said Wayne L. Berman, a longtime GOP operative close to the White House.

"The president's got a lot of major battles, and he and Karen really do think alike," said another Republican adviser who asked not to be named to preserve ties to the White House. "A second term is really about taking on big projects that you cannot take on in other circumstances."

During Bush's days as governor of Texas, Hughes, 48, was one of his three closest advisers who came to be known as the "iron triangle" -- the others were Karl Rove and Joe M. Allbaugh -- and she was so important to him that he told her he would not run for president if she did not come along.

She ghostwrote his autobiography and served as a sounding board on a vast array of issues. Her loyalty and discipline were legendary, helping to enforce a leak-free policy in an institution known for its information seepage.

She shocked Washington when she resigned three years ago to spend more time with her family, and touched off a debate about the tension between work and home that powerful women in the capital face.

Back in Austin, she wrote a memoir, "Ten Minutes from Nowhere," which was notable mainly for its loving portrait of Bush.

Her return could force a juggling of roles among various aides who filled the vacuum when she quit.

But some advisers said there will be no turf war. "She's just going to take a role that only Karen can take on because of her particular history," said one. "That's not the sort of thing that gets into territorial things."

President Bush listens to Karen P. Hughes, seen as Bush's virtual alter ego who understands how he thinks better than any other adviser.

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