Bush taps Skinner as chief of staff White House team set for '92 campaign

December 06, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Bush named Samuel K. Skinner yesterday to head a new team of top advisers charged with rescuing his plummeting popularity and guiding him to re-election next year.

Mr. Skinner, 53, a Chicago attorney now serving in the Bush Cabinet as transportation secretary, will replace the ousted John H. Sununu as White House chief of staff beginning Dec. 18.

In that role, Mr. Skinner will work closely with Robert M. Teeter, a long-time Bush pollster named by the president yesterday to be chairman and chief political strategist of his re-election campaign.

Mr. Teeter's objections to the prospect of being tethered so closely to Mr. Sununu were said to have delayed the designation of the campaign organization for six months and to have contributed ultimately to Mr. Sununu's resignation Tuesday.

Also named yesterday were five other top campaign aides, including Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher Sr., who will take on the mostly ceremonial post of general chairman of the re-election effort.

Flanked by his new team at a news conference, Mr. Bush acknowledged that their first job would be to help him shape a better response to the nation's economic woes, which he blames for dragging his public approval ratings from 70 percent only months ago to less than 50 percent in some recent surveys.

"When the economy goes down, the president takes the hits," Mr. Bush said. "We need to get this country back on its feet, people back on the job."

He reaffirmed his intention to wait until his State of the Union address in late January to unveil a repackaged legislative program for tax cuts and other measures to stimulate economic growth.

He cannot move earlier, advisers said, because the package isn't ready yet and any crusade he might launch would be interrupted by the Christmas holidays and his trip to Asia in early January.

Meanwhile, to give the economy an early "shot in the arm," the president also ordered various federal agencies yesterday to accelerate the spending of nearly $9.8 billion already appropriated by Congress.

His directive, similar to one Gov. William Donald Schaefer implemented in Maryland three weeks ago, would speed up by as much as six months spending in transportation, agriculture, defense, housing and environmental programs in order to pump those funds into the pockets of workers and consumers.

Part of the "difficult challenge" that Mr. Bush said would confront TC Mr. Skinner as he takes over the White House will be to figure out how to inspire both the Congress and the American public with his presidential leadership on the domestic front.

The president referred to Mr. Skinner "as a firm right hand," who is known for smoother management skills and congressional relations than the temperamental Mr. Sununu.

The outgoing chief of staff stood next to his successor at the White House news conference in a gesture of goodwill that had not been entirely expected. But it was clear from Mr. Bush's comments that some hard feelings lingered.

When asked to confirm Mr. Sununu's assertions that everything he did -- including his controversial bullying tactics -- carried Mr. Bush's specific approval, the president made the observation that "everybody has his own style."

Among the gaffes Mr. Sununu made in his final weeks was a boast to reporters that he would be running the re-election campaign from the White House, not only a premature announcement but a horrifying prospect for Mr. Teeter, whose own role would have been sharply diminished.

As it worked out, Mr. Teeter has been given a position of prominence similar to that occupied in previous Bush campaigns by James A. Baker III, the president's best friend of 30 years who is now secretary of state.

Joining Mr. Teeter will be Frederic V. Malek, a Washington businessman and former aide to President Richard M. Nixon, who will take over the administrative functions of the campaign.

Also in the core group will be Charles Black, a Republican consultant who Mr. Bush said has helped fill the gap left by the death of his top 1988 strategist, Lee Atwater; Mary Matalin, chief of staff of the Republican National Committee; and Rich Bond, a GOP consultant who was active in the 1988 Bush contest.

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