By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 1, 2007
White House press secretary Tony Snow announced his resignation yesterday, the latest in a series of departures that have reshaped the upper echelons of the administration with the addition of more low-profile replacements well versed in the ways of Washington.
Snow, who has been battling cancer, will be replaced by his deputy, Dana Perino, 35, a veteran press aide in the administration who is well liked by many of the reporters covering the president but has little of her predecessor's star power or on-camera experience.
The move comes as the White House is making a transition into a more defensive posture in which the focus will be on protecting key parts of the president's legacy, such as his Iraq policy and his signature education law, instead of launching grand initiatives.
The past few weeks have brought several other high-profile departures, including those of senior adviser Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Meanwhile, many of the new faces around the White House, such as counsel Fred F. Fielding and several lesser-known names, are seasoned veterans of Washington -- not the loyalists President Bush initially brought from Texas.
Bush made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room for the regular midday briefing, standing with Snow and Perino by his side. Of Snow, Bush said: "It's been a joy to watch him spar with you. He's smart; he's capable; he's witty."
Then he turned to Perino and described his new press secretary as "a smart, capable person who is able to spell out the issues of the day in a way that people listening on TV can understand." He added: "She can handle you."
"He leaves very big shoes to fill," the petite Perino quipped of Snow, "and I only wear a size 6."
Snow's departure has been widely anticipated, in large measure because he has been suffering from a recurrence of colon cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments that have left him looking gaunt and with thinning hair. But he insisted yesterday that he is leaving not for health reasons but to recoup the income he lost when he left his job as a radio and television host to take the $168,000-a-year job as press secretary.
"I ran out of money," he said.
As for his health, he said he is "doing fine." Snow said that he finished his last chemotherapy treatment two weeks ago and that his tumor has not grown. He said he will be facing "a maintenance dose of chemotherapy just to keep whacking this thing."
Snow was vague about his plans after his Sept. 14 departure, saying he expects to give speeches, stay involved in politics and step up his involvement in raising consciousness about cancer. He said he expects to write as many as two books, one about politics and his experience at the White House, another focused on his battle with cancer.
Snow was one of the most prominent press secretaries in recent memory, the star of what was widely known around the administration as "The Tony Snow Show," in which he bantered with reporters and zealously defended the administration's policies. He was considered less effective at the more mundane, yet important, aspects of the job -- tracking down facts for reporters and making sure they have what they need for stories and television spots.
That job fell to his less-heralded deputies, including Perino, who also spent considerable time explaining away errors or missed nuances in administration policies.
Snow's exuberance also led him into grand statements that he later regretted, such as when he explained the Iraqi parliament's month-long recess by noting that it's "130 degrees in Baghdad in August" -- even though U.S. soldiers were experiencing the same heat.
"He came in at a time when the president was particularly low, and as a result, what they wanted was someone who was adept at selling," said Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor at Towson University who wrote a recent book on White House communications. But she added: "If you work as an advocate, the downside is that people don't know whether to believe the information you are giving them."
Perino stepped in for Snow for more than five weeks after he had cancer surgery earlier this year. She indicated in an interview that she does not expect to make big changes in the White House press shop, nor does she see big problems between the White House and the press corps.
"I strongly believe we have good relations with the press," she said. "There's no doubt that these are high-pressure times for a government and a White House that is at war. All of that said, I think everybody approaches the job with true professionalism. I have fun working with the reporters I deal with."
She also said she has become more comfortable with speaking candidly to the president. "He and I have a good relationship where I can give my unvarnished opinion," she said.
White House chief of staff Joshua M. Bolten said Perino was the "clear choice" for the job. "While Dana doesn't yet bring the kind of star power that Tony brought to the podium from Day One," he said, "she will develop a lot of credibility with the broader public, because she is always well informed, always straight, always understandable."
Bolten also indicated that he expects the turnover in the administration to slow down. "I wouldn't be surprised if there were still some more departures," he said. "I don't expect a great deal more."