The Card Sacrifice

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, March 28, 2006; 12:54 PM

Sacrificing Andy Card, his longtime chief of staff, is President Bush's way of responding to the growing complaints about the administration's competence.

The botched response to Hurricane Katrina, the deteriorating situation in Iraq, the rocky relations with the Republican Congress -- all of these are seen at least in part as failures of execution. And execution is the chief of staff's job.

But Card's departure in no way addresses the two even more fundamental areas where Bush is vulnerable: His decisions and his credibility.

In most White Houses, the chief of staff is a godlike figure, putting his stamp on the presidency in almost every conceivable way. But in the Bush White House, political guru Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney loom much larger and have way more to do with what the president says and does than Card ever did. As long as they stay put, the rest may largely be window dressing.

Card was extremely popular with his staff and oversaw the most buttoned-down, leak-proof, on-time, on-message White House in history. But he was not a big influence on Bush. He was more like Bush's nanny.

Card spent many hours of his legendarily long work days aggressively monitoring -- and limiting -- the information flow to the president. "The president has to have time to eat, sleep and be merry, or he'll make angry, grumpy decisions," Card said in a 2004 radio interview described in this column . "So I have to make sure he has time to eat, sleep and be merry. But I also have to make sure he has the right time to do the right thing for the country, and that he gets the right information in time, rather than too late."

Replacing Card with Joshua B. Bolten does not in any way satisfy the demands of those who were calling for new blood at the White House. Bolten was policy director of the 2000 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign and has been a top Bush aide since January 2001. He was Card's deputy chief of staff before taking his current job as director of the White House's budget office.

In this morning's Oval Office announcement , Bush hugged Card and called him a close friend while keeping Bolten at arm's length and describing him as "a man with broad experience, having worked on Capitol Hill and Wall Street and the White House staff."

But in June 2003 , upon announcing Bolten's nomination to the budget post, Bush described Bolten as "one of my closest and most trusted advisers." And their relationship has only deepened since.

Of course, Card's departure could be the beginning of a much wider shakeup.

Peter Baker and Debbi Wilgoren write for The Washington Post: "The move could presage broader staff changes as Bolten takes over an operation hobbled by political problems heading into a crucial midterm election season. . . .

"Card has held the top staff job at the White House longer than any person since Sherman Adams under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and had earned enormous respect within the building and around Washington for his calm professionalism and stamina. But his stewardship of the Bush team had come under question in recent months after a series of mishaps. . . .

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