Biker Bolten stands apart

Along with idiosyncrasies, he brings experience on Capitol Hill

March 29, 2006|By JANET HOOK | JANET HOOK,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Joshua B. Bolten may be as much a loyalist as the rest of President Bush's inner circle, but he cuts a very distinct profile outside the West Wing: He rides a motorcycle, is a bowling maniac and keeps a copy of the children's book Walter the Farting Dog on his coffee table.

That gives Bolten a rare dash of idiosyncrasy in a notoriously buttoned-down White House, where he will soon replace Andrew H. Card Jr. as chief of staff.

Bolten, 51, brings other attributes that could help the White House in these troubled times, with congressional Republicans in open revolt and Bush's policy agenda at sea: He has experience working on Capitol Hill and, as Bush's budget director the last three years, has mastered broad swaths of domestic policy.

And as a native of Washington, Bolten is one of the few non-Texans in Bush's tight-knit group of advisers.

"He will reach out to a broader range of people to hear their point of view," said Robert D. Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a Democrat who has worked with Bolten. "The worst way to serve the president is to narrow the range of advice he is exposed to."

But one thing Bolten does not bring to the White House is what some Republicans think is needed most - fresh blood. Like Card, Bolten has been a senior adviser to Bush since his 2000 presidential campaign, and he also logged years working in Bush's father's White House.

Bolten has worked for one Bush or the other for 13 of the last 18 years. The current president, who loves conferring nicknames, calls him "Yosh."

"He is very loyal, something this administration values," said Bill Hoagland, budget adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican. "He keeps things pretty tight. If he disagrees [with Bush], he does not show it."

Bolten may help smooth the rough edges of the White House's relationship with Congress, where Republicans increasingly have complained that the administration takes them for granted and gives short shrift to their views.

For Bolten, Capitol Hill is not unknown territory: He has worked closely with party leaders and budget writers since being named director of the Office and Management and Budget in 2003.

His easygoing, nonconfrontational style was a welcome change from his predecessor as budget director, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who was often cutting and impatient in his dealings with lawmakers.

"We were in open warfare with his predecessor," said Jim Dyer, a lobbyist who was staff director of the House Appropriations Committee until 2005. "He came to the Hill and sat down with the chairman and said, `I'm really under orders to fix this relationship.'"

Bush picked him to succeed Daniels as OMB director at a particularly difficult time: The budget deficit was burgeoning and the economy was weak, yet lawmakers were still clamoring for more federal spending on farm subsidies, on projects that benefited individual congressional districts and on other politically sacrosanct programs.

"He has one of the most thankless jobs in this town," Hoagland said. "It's a job that nobody's going to give you great kudos for. You're either under attack here [on Capitol Hill] or the agencies."

While Bolten's rise in government has been conventional by Washington terms, his interests are not. He owns two motorcycles, one of which he keeps at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. In his OMB office, he displays a motorcycle gas tank commemorating the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.

During the 2000 campaign, he formed "Bikers for Bush." Bolten, who has never married, gained particular notoriety when he gave a motorcycle ride at one of the group's rallies to actress Bo Derek.

An avid bowler, he sponsored an annual tournament for several years. Bush is one of his regular opponents during his frequent visits to the presidential retreat at Camp David. As a holiday gift one year, Bolten gave his staff bowling balls.

He also plays bass guitar and performed once at an OMB talent contest with a band he called "Deficit Attention Disorder."

With that kind of dry humor, putting Walter the Farting Dog on his coffee table is Bolten's idea of a "conversation starter," an aide says.

He brought the book to a schoolroom once and asked the children if they would like to hear about the federal budget or a farting dog. They chose the book.

Janet Hook writes for the Los Angeles Times.

JOSHUA B. BOLTEN

Next White House Chief of Staff

Born: 1955 in Washington, D.C; father was a CIA officer

Education: Bachelor's degree, Princeton University, 1976; law degree, Stanford University, 1980

Early Career: Private law practice with O'Melveny & Myers, worked in State Department legal office

Government career: 1985-1989: International trade counsel to Senate Finance Committee

1989-1993: Served under President George H. W. Bush as general counsel to U.S. trade representative and deputy assistant to the president for legal affairs

1999-2000: Policy director, Bush-Cheny presidential campaign and transition team

2001-2003: White House deputy chief of staff for policy

2003-2006: Director, Office of Management and Budget

Yesterday: Appointed White House Chief of Staff

Private sector work: 1993: Taught international trade at Yale Law School

1994-1999: Executive director, legal and government affairs, Goldman Sachs, London. SOURCES: WHITE HOUSE, KRT PHOTO SERVICE

LEE HULTENG, PAT CARR : KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

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