Monday, Aug. 13, 1 p.m. ET

Rove Leaves White House

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Peter Baker
White House Reporter
Monday, August 13, 2007; 1:00 PM

Karl Rove, chief architect of the Bush presidency and the premier Republican strategist of the last decade, will step down as White House deputy chief of staff Aug. 31.

Washington Post White House reporter Peter Baker will be online Monday, Aug. 13, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss Rove's departure, reaction to the announcement and what lies ahead at the White House.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

Listen to Post Politics Podcast.

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Peter Baker: Good afternoon, everyone. Obviously, we have big news today with the departure of Karl Rove. Lots to chew on there, so let's get started.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Simple question: How unexpected was this?

Thanks.

Peter Baker: Pretty unexpected. There's always been whispering over the months among people wondering whether he would stay or go, particularly after the election defeat last fall. But after he stayed, most people, I think, thought ultimately he would have been the guy turning out the lights on January 20, 2009.

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Columbia, S.C.: What is Rove's announced rationale for leaving at this date?

Peter Baker: He says he's ready to spend more time with his family. His wife, Darby, has endured long absences and everything that comes with this sort of intense experience, and his son, Andrew, is in college in San Antonio.

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Fairfax, Va,: Two questions: once off the White House staff, will Rove then be able to devote his full time to masterminding the the coming election campaign for the Republicans? Will Rove now be susceptible to testifying before Congress without being able to claim executive privilege?

Peter Baker: Two great questions. Rove told the Wall Street Journal that he was done with political consulting and that he plans to write a book about Bush and would like to teach. He has said repeatedly in public and private that he doesn't plan to sign on with any of the 2008 campaigns. But he's also told colleagues and associates that while he's done with politics for the moment, he would be available to talk with Republicans who call for advice next year. So don't rule him completely out for the long run.

As for testifying before Congress, the Democrats will make the argument that this makes him more vulnerable legally, that as a former aide instead of a current aide he no longer represents the institution of the White House. Some of them have made the same argument regarding Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor. I'm not a lawyer so I don't know how valid that argument is. But it can't be as comfortable looking at a contempt citation on the outside as it is on the inside.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: How many book publishers do you think are sending their information to Karl Rove's house today?

Peter Baker: Big money's to be had there, I'm sure. If he writes a genuinely candid book revealing what he knows, there's a bestseller waiting to happen.

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Mt. Vernon, Va.: Some will doubtless say Rove has been pushed out by the Democrats, others that he has left of his own accord. I think in the long run, it isn't too important. What I would like, however, is your opinion on what Rove's absence will mean for the formulation of White House policy. Is Rove's departure a signal that Bush will not try any new or bold initiatives and will simply "stay the course" until his term expires? Or will Bush find a new adviser willing to spend the next two years trying to rescue what many see as a broken White House?

Thank you.

Peter Baker: Another good question. I think it does signal that the era of big policy may be over. With just 17 months left, and the immigration package dead, there don't seem to be many opportunities left for President Bush to push through the sorts of ambitious domestic legislation that Rove favored. Instead, on the domestic side, Bush appears to be heading into a period where he will mainly be defending and trying to preserve what he has already done -- tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, and so on -- while fighting with Democrats over spending and eagerly using his veto pen to reject their appropriations bills.

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Washington, D.C.: Who will President Bush turn to, to fill the gap that Karl Rove leaves behind?

Peter Baker: No word on that yet. Everyone in the White House says it's impossible to fill Karl Rove's shoes, but it's possible Chief of Staff Josh Bolten will reorganize the job so that one or more people will assume different aspects of Rove's responsibilities.

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Seattle, Wash.: We keep hearing about how "sunny" Karl Rove is. This is an odd description for someone whose policies and approach to politics is anything but. You must have had numerous contacts with Rove, both on and off the record. What's your assessment of his personality?

Peter Baker: Well, he is sunny in the sense that he always seems up, always seems buoyant, no matter how grim the situation might seem. I went in to see him just a couple days after last year's electoral defeat for the Republicans and found anything but a guy in the fetal position. He was making jokes and offering his optimistic interpretation of the results. He has a wry, sometimes goofy sense of humor. That side of him doesn't tend to come across as much in public in part because his speeches and his political strategies can be so cutting and his tone at times quite harsh.

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NYC:"His departure is the end of an era in modern GOP politics ... "

Not so fast. Rove et al., have been very adept at the tactical manipulation required to swing votes (paper or electronic) their direction, not to mention subvert elections which do not go their way. If Rove sits out the campaign he could still have a place in the next Republican administration. Even if Rove retires, candidates with a stomach for gutter politics will replicate and expand on his methods.

In fact, the Rove era may be in its infancy. Especially if Giuliani makes it past the primaries.

Peter Baker: Well, I didn't mean by that that it was the end of Rove or his legacy, positive or negative, only that the remarkable day-to-day political partnership of Rove and Bush has now come to an end.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Peter,

I find it interesting that Mr. Rove's leaving was announced via an interview with the WSJ ed page and then confirmed by the WH.

Is this as unusual as it seems? Why didn't the WH make the announcement?

Thanks

Peter Baker: Rove obviously crafted his own departure strategy, starting with a mostly sympathetic ear in Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of the Journal. Gigot got the scoop and wrote a piece that let Rove largely frame his decision on his terms. It's a little unusual to do it that way, but I suppose not entirely surprising. It certainly made for an early morning since the Journal email came out around 4:45 a.m.

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Washington, D.C.: Thought on the timing? Was Rove persuaded to stay on longer than he wanted to prevent the appearance that Bush had succumbed to pressure from Democrats?

Peter Baker: Any time a White House official of Rove's prominence leaves, there will be hidden messages seen, and so if he really did just want to leave because he's done it so long and felt he had done all he could, it becomes a challenge to find a period to announce the decision so that it doesn't look like a reaction to something in the news. You'll note that both Bush and Rove emphasized that this was something they had been discussing for a while -- in other words, they are trying to say he was not ridden out of town on a rail by congressional Democrats poring through his email and scrutinizing his involvement in the firings of the U.S. attorneys or the political briefings at government agencies. If he really was leaving for motives more complicated than those announced, the timing question again becomes how to do it in a way to avoid looking bad. But I think Rove and the White House are pretty aware that people will assume what they want to assume about his departure anyway, so there's only so much he can influence that.

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Philadelphia: Would any of the Republican candidates really want his support? I mean, they're going to get Bush's base no matter what -- the people who still support him now, and are the only ones who'd really see a Rove endorsement as a plus. I suspect he'd turn off just about everyone else, and the next president is most likely going to need more than 30 percent support to be elected.

Peter Baker: They might not want to hire him, since he is such a lightning rod and presumably the Democratic nominee would make the argument that a Rove-directed campaign means the next coming of the Bush presidency. But it wouldn't surprise me if the candidates or their strategists touch base with him for some sub rosa advice.

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San Antonio, Texas:

Just a meta-comment on Mt. Vernon's comment, "What I would like, however, is your opinion on what Rove's absence will mean for the formulation of White House policy."

You could make a fairly good case that, somewhat mysteriously, the Rovian hand started to have a declining influence at the White House as early as the second quarter of 2005. Certainly by the end of that year something was seriously amiss in the political coordination department (Katrina, SCOTUS).

Peter Baker: Certainly the failure of Social Security took a lot of the wind out of Rove's second-term plans. He told folks after the reelection that he wanted the second term to be as ambitious as the first in terms of domestic policy, regardless of the war in Iraq. He outlined four main priorities -- overhauling Social Security, rewriting the tax code, changing immigration policy and restricting lawsuits. The first three went nowhere and only part of the last priority was enacted.

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New York: Your article indicates that Rove "does not plan to work on a presidential campaign". This would seem to leave room for some consulting, perhaps, or at least some off-the-cuff tactical advice. While Republican candidates will be certain to try and avoid having their campaigns linked to Rove (or Bush), do you think it is likely some of them will seek his help?

And isn't it difficult to imagine Rove relaxing at home with nothing to do except pen his memoirs(unlike Bush, who will be happier when he can spend more time fishing, although he will certainly be unable to get very far on a writing assignment without a ghostwriter)?

Peter Baker: Yes, I could easily see him having quiet, informal conversations with Republican campaigns next year. And it is hard to see him "retiring" at 56. But he also indicated he wants to teach. And obviously he would have a lucrative career on the speaking circuit, should he choose to. You can imagine him putting together a series of ventures like this and trying to manage the Bush legacy to the extent that he can. Heck, no one's signed up as director of the Bush library yet, have they?

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Bethesda, Md.: Somehow I don't buy this "close-to-the-family" excuse. Here are some ad-hoc conspiracy theories. Possibility #1: he's staying out of the pressure cooker for a while so he can focus on political strategizing for the upcoming elections. Possibility #2: he's having a rough time with the Cheney branch of the government and is dashing for the exit. Could you comment on these? What's your own pet conjecture? Thanks.

Peter Baker: The time with the family reason is timeworn in Washington, so much so in fact that no one ever really believes it even when it's true. In Rove's case, his son is off at college and anyone with a college-aged kid knows they have no interest in spending more time with the family. And there are obviously lots of other things swirling around that would make someone want to leave the White House at this point, particularly Rove. Having said that, don't underestimate how exhausting these jobs really are, even for the truly committed.

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Austin, Tex.: Will the full extent of Rove's actual "legacy," particularly over the past four years, ever be known?

Peter Baker: No, probably not. If the next president is a Republican who continues some of Bush's policies and maybe even achieves some of the things he didn't in terms of Social Security or immigration, that would be one thing. If the next president is a Democrat and repudiates it all -- or especially if it's a Republican who repudiates it -- that's another. I covered President Clinton and his potential legacy looked a lot different while he was still in office depending on what year it was.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Am I the only one who finds it odd that Rove picked a Monday on a slow news cycle to announce his departure? Any speculation from you as to why this particular time was chosen would be helpful. Personally, I just don't buy the Josh Bolton cover story. It is very hard to believe that there will not be more administration staff leaving between now and Jan. 20, 2009, or that Rove would not calculate the timing of his own departure.

Peter Baker: No, you're not the only one by any stretch. The one overriding theme of the questions here today mirror our own -- why? and why now? Really, at this point, we can only speculate. It's possible further reporting today or in the days to come will unearth more of the story, if there is more of a story out there. Stay tuned.

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Woodbridge, Va.: why is he leaving right before the most important political debate of the 2nd administration is about to happen over the Iraq report this Sept. Doesn't this leave the white house rudderless to guide the fallout.

Peter Baker: Well, it's certainly not good timing in that regard. But then there never would be good timing unless he stayed until the end. If he left after the Democrats won last fall, folks would be saying he was leaving just when the president needed him to recover. If he left in spring when he was fighting off congressional attacks on his Iraq policy, that would have been seen as bad timing. And so on. If you do want to leave, at a certain point, he told Gigot, you simply have to leave.

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Washington, D.C.: In The Washington Post article about Karl Rove leaving the Post's stripes really showed. "Karl Rove, who escaped indictment." Are you kidding me? Escaped? How did he escape? He was innocent and therefore wasn't indicted. By reading the article you would think Rove was this evil man who was guilty¿;which may be the view of the blogosphere, but shouldn't be represented in a mainstream publication like The Post. Please explain.

Peter Baker: The special prosecutor investigated Rove for possible crimes in the CIA leak case, brought him before the grand jury five times and considered an indictment. In the end, Rove modified his testimony to recognize disparities in accounts, the special prosecutor chose not to charge him and thus Rove escaped indictment.

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Media, Pa.: Who remains in the White House that can be considered a political counselor (Miers, Hughes and now Rove are out)?

Peter Baker: Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, has taken Dan Bartlett's place as presidential counselor. He certainly becomes more important with Rove's departure.

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Peter Baker: Thank you, everybody, for participating today. Anne Kornblut, our ace political reporter, will be filing a story on the Web later this afternoon on Rove's political legacy. And we'll have more coverage in tomorrow's print edition as well.

Have a great day.

Peter

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