By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
President Bush took the first step in what aides say may be a second-term overhaul of his beleaguered administration yesterday as he announced the departure of longtime Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.
Card offered his resignation earlier this month, saying it would be best for the president.
Bush named Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Card, and indicated that more changes are in the offing. Card's resignation comes after a series of political missteps that have contributed to Bush's sinking approval rating and prompted some Republicans to urge a staff shake-up.
White House officials emphasized that Bolten would have the prerogative to bring in fresh staff members and revamp operations to suit his leadership style. The White House must find a replacement for domestic policy adviser Claude A. Allen, who resigned after being accused of stealing from retail stores, and now a new budget director. At least one or two other senior officials are expected to leave for their own reasons by the end of the school year this spring, a senior official said.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not speculate on the future of other high-level White House staff members, including Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, who has been under investigation by a special prosecutor in the CIA leak case.
"All of us here serve at the pleasure of the president. And that's important to keep in mind," McClellan said. ". . . But I think it's premature to try to speculate about what, if any, decisions might come."
Card, who served nearly 5 1/2 years as Bush's chief of staff, said he will stay on until April 14 to ease Bolten's transition. Speaking from the Oval Office, Bush thanked Card for his "wise counsel, his calm in crisis, his absolute integrity, and his tireless commitment to public service."
Bush went on to describe Bolten as a "creative policy thinker" who is an expert on the budget and economy and who has earned the respect of Congress and knows how to lead. "No person is better prepared for this important position," he said.
In picking Bolten, Bush once again chose not to reach beyond his inner circle to fill a critical post. With many Republicans concerned that Bush's flagging popularity will hurt them in this fall's midterm elections, some have been urging him to select a seasoned Washington veteran the way Ronald Reagan brought in former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) when his presidency's second term was listing.
But Bush instead turned to someone he knows and trusts implicitly. A confidant of the president's, Bolten, 51, served as deputy White House chief of staff in Bush's first term before moving to head the budget office at a time when spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the expensive new Medicare prescription drug benefit and the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, caused deficits to spiral.
In an attempt to accommodate the new spending demands, Bolten oversaw two consecutive budgets that reduced spending on many housing, education and other social-service programs. Still, many Republicans in Congress have complained that the administration has not done enough to rein in federal expenditures.
Taking the microphone after Bush's announcement, Bolten said he was "deeply honored" by the opportunity to succeed Card. "The agenda ahead is exciting," he said. ". . . I am anxious to get to work."
Card has held the top staff job at the White House longer than any person since Sherman Adams, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Card has earned respect within the building and around Washington for his stamina and calm professionalism.
Largely invisible to the public, Card is best known for his role on Sept. 11, 2001, as the person who informed Bush that a second hijacked plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. As Bush was reading to students in a Florida classroom, Card calmly approached and whispered in his ear.
As chief of staff in the current administration, Card has been instrumental in some of Bush's signature achievements, including tax cuts, a broad education-revision package and the appointment of two Supreme Court justices. But his stewardship has come under sharp questioning in recent months after a series of mishaps, including the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the slow public disclosure of Vice President Cheney's shooting accident and the unexpected Republican revolt over a plan to turn over management at a half-dozen ports from a British firm to an Arab-owned company. Card also played a major role in the creation of the behemoth Department of Homeland Security, which has come under fire for profligate spending and its ineffective response to Katrina.
Card, 58, has been the focus of much speculation in Washington about how physically and politically exhausted the White House staff must be in the sixth year of a presidency buffeted by recession, terrorism and war. Card has told interviewers that he gets up every day at 4:20 a.m., arrives at the White House an hour or so later and works until 8 or 9 at night.
"On most days, Andy is the first one to arrive in the West Wing and the last one to leave," Bush said.
McClellan said Card initially told Bush that he wanted to resign on March 8, just one day before the port deal fell apart. Bush did not accept Card's resignation right away, but he did not reject it, either. "What the president did was examine it," a senior aide said. After thinking it through and pondering who would take over if Card left, the two talked again at Camp David on Saturday and finalized the move.
Some conservatives are glad to see Card go. Quin Hillyer, executive editor of the American Spectator magazine, offered a "friendly good riddance" to the chief of staff. "This White House is justly criticized for its insularity, and this little bit of shake-up may help break up that insularity just a little," he said. "Without saying anything bad about Andy Card, it's a good opportunity for the White House to get a new start."
Yesterday, Card's voice was thick with emotion as he left the Washington stage.
"Ecclesiastes reminds us that there are different seasons," he said. ". . . But it is a different season, and Josh Bolten is the right person for that season."
Staff writers Peter Baker and Mark Leibovich contributed to this report.