Rove Gives Up Policy Post in Shake-Up
Thursday, April 20, 2006
President Bush's new chief of staff accelerated his election-year White House shake-up yesterday as Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove surrendered the policy management duties he assumed last year and press secretary Scott McClellan resigned as the public face of an administration under fire.
Rove, who steered Bush to two national election victories, will retain his title but focus on broad strategy and politics, while Joel D. Kaplan takes over as deputy White House chief of staff running the day-to-day policy process. To replace McClellan, Republican strategists said the White House is considering Fox News radio host Tony Snow and former Iraq occupation spokesman Dan Senor.
The moves effectively diminished or eliminated the roles of the two presidential aides most familiar to the general public, as newly installed White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten seeks to rescue the remainder of Bush's presidency. Coupled with other changes already announced and still in the works, Bolten hopes to demonstrate to the public and the Republican-led Congress that it will no longer be business as usual in a White House afflicted by political defeats, an overseas war and shrinking public support.
At the same time, the changes made public so far mainly have moved around figures who have been inside the Bush orbit for years, and White House officials made clear yesterday that no major shifts in policy are envisioned. With midterm congressional elections looming, strategists said the main goal was to make public gestures that would restore faith in Bush's ability to lead.
"The decision isn't one looking back at past performance or judgment," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "It was one looking forward. Josh is reenergizing and rebuilding his staff for the next thousand days."
The reshuffling, the most significant of Bush's second term, got underway when the president appointed Bolten to replace Andrew H. Card Jr. as his chief aide. Bolten, who took over Friday afternoon, has moved quickly to restructure the West Wing. On Monday, he invited aides already thinking of leaving to submit resignations. On Tuesday, he installed U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman to take over his job as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Aides said no further moves will be announced this week but anticipate more next week, hoping that stretching them out over time will provide momentum. "People have been watching this TV series for a long time, and it helps to plug in some new characters from time to time," said Bush political adviser Mark McKinnon. "Gets folks to tune back in and take a fresh look."
Bolten is still eyeing the White House legislative affairs office in hopes of improving relations with congressional Republicans. Bolten has privately expressed criticism to colleagues about the operation of chief White House lobbyist Candida Wolf, and it remained uncertain whether she would stay. The White House has also been interested in finding a replacement for Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.
A senior White House official said a lot of staff members remain uncertain. Bolten's call for resignations, the official said, has a lot of aides who had not been contemplating departing now planning to spend this weekend considering it. Bolten has said he will keep Card's schedule and structure until the middle of next week, and then put his own in place.
The biggest changes so far came with Rove's shift and McClellan's departure. Rove has been the driving force of the Bush presidency from its inception, and last year he added the title of deputy chief of staff for policy to his portfolio. But some Republicans saw it as a poor fit as the operation's vision man occupied himself with the trains-on-time responsibilities of the new job.
Among people close to the White House and in Republican circles around Washington, there remained debate whether the move should be regarded as a demotion or reassignment. The answer will remain unknown until Bolten's operation has more time to prove itself. But there was agreement that the move was a negative verdict on the status quo.
"He's the best thinker in our party, and in the last year he's been doing all the staffing memos and making sure the paperwork is done on time and all that," said a senior administration official glad to see Rove return to his strong suit.