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Rove Gives Up Policy Post in Shake-Up

By turning over the daily policy management to Kaplan, Rove will free himself up to concentrate more on the midterm elections, which are crucial to Bush's fortunes, but he will remain an influential voice in broader policy discussions, as well. "That will leave Karl more time to focus on truly strategic policy at a critical time for the presidency," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said.

Rove, 55, who has been Bush's most important adviser for many years, told associates he knew his shift might be seen as a demotion but agreed with Bolten that he was bogged down by esoteric subjects distracting him from strategy. A Republican close to Rove said the change was unrelated to the CIA leak case, in which Rove remains under investigation, but was meant to calm Republicans who fretted that the White House mishandled issues such as the Dubai port deal and Hurricane Katrina.

"They needed to have the optics that there's going to be a change -- a message-delivery change and a different approach to policy, particularly domestic policy," the Republican said. "That's all it is. There's not going to be any change in policy. It gets Washington talking about different things."

Democrats dismissed the move. "President Bush doesn't seem to understand that you can't just change the window dressing, you have to make changes in the Bush administration's policies, which have undermined America's security," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

While Rove's shift was disclosed on paper, Bush walked McClellan onto the South Lawn yesterday morning before a trip to Alabama. "The White House is going through a period of transition," McClellan said. "Change can be helpful, and this is a good time and good position to help bring about change. I am ready to move on."

McClellan, 38, who has been at Bush's side since Texas and served as chief spokesman for the past two years and nine months, choked up momentarily. Turning to the president, he said, "I have given it my all, sir, and I've given you my all."

Bush responded with praise: "He handled his assignment with class, integrity. He really represents the best of his family, our state and our country. It's going to be hard to replace Scott."

In a moment of unfortunate symbolism for a troubled White House, Bush and McClellan then boarded Marine One to fly to Andrews Air Force Base -- only to have to disembark when the helicopter would not work. Instead, the president departed by motorcade.

McClellan had told colleagues as recently as last month that he intended to stay but told reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday that he began reconsidering when Card stepped down and informed Bush of his decision in an Oval Office meeting on Monday. "I didn't need much encouragement to make this decision," he said.

With endless patience, McClellan has absorbed months of battering at daily briefings over the president's second-term problems. Although he never expressed it publicly, McClellan's colleagues said he was frustrated that his credibility had been questioned after he relayed Rove's assertion in 2003 that Bush's top adviser had nothing to do with the leak of a CIA operative's identity -- a claim later discredited by grand jury testimony.

McClellan said he would stay for two or three weeks as the White House brings in a replacement. Republicans close to the White House identified three main candidates: Tony Snow, Senor and former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke. Snow confirmed he is considering it, while Clarke said she would not.

Replacing Rove in the job of deputy chief of staff for policy will be Kaplan, who worked for Bolten in the first Bush campaign, in the White House and then at OMB as deputy director. Bolten considers Kaplan, 36, his right hand and was the only one with a speaking role at Kaplan's wedding this month, aside from Judge J. Michael Luttig of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, who presided over the ceremony for his former clerk.

Kaplan, who rushed back to Washington from a Hawaii honeymoon Tuesday night, will be the third deputy along with Rove and Joseph W. Hagin, who plans to stay but will also give up policy duties, colleagues said. A Harvard Law graduate and former Marine, Kaplan also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.


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