Rove to Leave White House Post

Influential White House adviser Karl Rove gets a hug from President Bush after announcing that he will leave his job on Aug. 31.
Influential White House adviser Karl Rove gets a hug from President Bush after announcing that he will leave his job on Aug. 31. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Peter Baker and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Karl Rove took leave yesterday of the man he helped put in the White House nearly seven years ago, and in the process he opened a new phase of the politically battered Bush presidency as it heads into its final months without some of the central players who shaped it.

Rove, the primary author of President Bush's two successful national campaigns and perhaps the most influential and controversial presidential strategist of his generation, became the latest Bush adviser to head for the door, announcing that he will resign Aug. 31.

The wave of departures signals a broader transition as Bush shifts away from the sweeping domestic initiatives on taxes, education, Social Security and immigration that Rove favored, and refocuses his presidency to a more defensive posture in the face of an opposition Congress and sunken poll ratings.

During the last 17 months of his presidency, Bush's domestic front will consist of trying to preserve programs enacted in his first term, finding opportunities for discreet victories, and engaging in veto battles with Democrats over spending and taxes. Much of the focus will center on foreign policy, where the stakes remain greater and the outcome more uncertain, particularly regarding Iraq.

The White House labored to dismiss the sense that Rove's resignation underscores a lame-duck presidency, even as it felt like an era was coming to an end on the South Lawn yesterday morning.

"Karl Rove is moving on down the road," Bush said as the two appeared together for an emotional coda to their 14-year political partnership. A few moments later, he turned to Rove and added: "I'll be on the road behind you here in a little bit." Rove's voice quavered as he spoke, and the two hugged before flying off to Texas together for vacation.

Rove, 56, who holds the titles of White House deputy chief of staff and senior adviser, said he had been thinking of leaving for more than a year and has wanted to spend more time with his family. Although he is the object of multiple investigations by the Democratic Congress, Rove scoffed at the notion that they prompted his decision.

"I'm leaving on my own terms, and I'm leaving with a clear-eyed realism that this isn't going to mean fewer investigations or subpoenas or weird comments by members of the Democratic caucus," he said in an interview. "These guys are obsessed with me, and they think I'm a convenient and easy target to play to their base and raise money."

Even when he returns to Texas, Rove said, he expects to be under attack for his role in advising Bush. "I realize that some of the Democrats are Captain Ahab and I'm the great white whale," he said. "I noticed the other day some Democratic staffers were quoted calling me the big fish. Well, I'm Moby-Dick and they're after me."

Democrats welcomed Rove's resignation and vowed to continue probing his involvement in the firings of U.S. attorneys, political briefings conducted at various agencies and the use of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts by White House officials.

"The list of senior White House and Justice Department officials who have resigned during the course of these congressional investigations continues to grow, and today Mr. Rove added his name to that list," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.).

Other Democrats blasted Rove as an apostle of division. "Karl Rove was an architect of a political strategy that has left the country more divided, the special interests more powerful and the American people more shut out from their government than any time in memory," said Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) was more succinct: "Goodbye, good riddance."

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