Treasury Secretary to Step Down

By Peter Baker and Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 26, 2006

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who has presided during a period of strong economic growth but at times seemed out of sync with President Bush, has informed the White House that he will resign in the coming days after three years as the nation's chief economic officer, a source close to Snow said yesterday.

Snow asked the White House to announce his resignation in early June and said he plans to stay in the job no later than July 3 while a replacement is sought, the source said. The secretary's decision was intended to bring finality to a process that has played out awkwardly in public over months as Snow's job security has been a regular source of Washington speculation.

Republican insiders said possible candidates to succeed Snow include former commerce secretary Donald L. Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, a former Kellogg Co. chief executive; Ambassador David C. Mulford, a former treasury undersecretary who represents the United States in India; and Stephen Friedman, the president's former chief economic adviser and a former Goldman Sachs chief executive.

Two Republicans said Evans and his wife will accompany the Bushes to Camp David today, although they cautioned against reading too much into that because the two couples often spend holidays together. One of the Republicans said Evans would be willing to take the job if Bush indicates he needs him.

"There is a lean toward a person who's on the inside and would have the opportunity to come into the position very easily," said a former administration official, who like others insisted on anonymity to discuss a resignation that has not been formally announced.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, a former trade representative, had hoped to be named the next treasury secretary but does not appear likely to get the job, and has indicated to associates that he plans to resign soon to return to the private sector.

Robert M. Kimmitt, Snow's deputy, is another possible candidate. But his prospects may have been damaged by the controversy over a Dubai company's proposed takeover of terminal operations at U.S. ports; he was Treasury's point man on the process that initially approved the takeover.

Snow's impending departure has been expected for months, but word of his decision began leaking out yesterday and was first reported by the Dow Jones news service.

Bush, when asked about the Treasury secretary at his news conference last night, indicated only that he had not spoken directly with Snow and quickly changed the subject to positive economic indicators. "He has not talked to me about resignation," Bush said. "I think he's doing a fine job. I mean, after all, our economy is strong."

Snow first told then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. around Christmas last year that he was ready to go but said he would stay through the State of the Union address in January until a successor could be found, according to the source close to Snow. But the White House had trouble finding a person of stature from Wall Street to take over a job that, under Bush, has become more about selling policy than making it, which is why his team has turned to current and former government officials, according to several sources.

Snow grew frustrated as news reports in recent weeks suggested that the White House wanted him out, the source close to him said. Rather than be left hanging any longer, he decided to set a firm July 3 departure date even if a replacement is not named. "He just didn't want it to drag on later than that," the source said. "He's anxious to get back to the private sector."

"With the economy in good shape," the source added, "it feels like a good time to leave on a high note." Snow, the source said, "is leaving on very good terms with the president."

A genial former railroad executive, Snow, 66, has hewed steadfastly to the White House line, in contrast with his feisty predecessor Paul H. O'Neill, who often irritated Bush aides by differing with the president on issues such as tax cuts and steel tariffs. Although Snow's loyalty is appreciated at the White House, he has followed his assigned script so closely that even some boosters concede he has sometimes come across as an ineffective salesman for the administration's policies.

In recent weeks, even amid reports about his impending departure, Snow has continued traveling around the country, delivering speeches touting the economy's strength and the recent surge of tax revenue as evidence that the president's policies are working.

At times, though, he has appeared disengaged. When questioned a few days ago at a congressional hearing on how high inflation has been over the past year, for example, he replied about 5 percent, when the correct answer was 3.5 percent.

But Snow could cite other numbers to bolster his legacy. The government announced yesterday that the gross domestic product grew a brisk 5.3 percent in the first quarter, and in a statement Snow noted that it has averaged 4 percent growth over the last three years. The news, he said, "further demonstrates the strength of the American economy."

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