Bush shakes up staff leadership

March 29, 2006|By JAMES GERSTENZANG | JAMES GERSTENZANG,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- President Bush accepted the resignation of his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., yesterday and replaced him with Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten as the White House moved to regain a political footing shaken by the war in Iraq and a rebellious and worried Republican majority in Congress.

No sooner was Bolten's appointment announced than administration critics, Republicans among them, began questioning whether he would offer the experience and respect that they say Bush needs with his political standing at the lowest point of his presidency.

Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, said, "They still need men and women of stature and gravitas in a number of slots there in the White House. They need to bring in some experienced hands to get a handle on things."

Bolten, a Princeton-educated, motorcycle-riding lawyer, has been at Bush's side since 1999 and, before that, in the first President Bush's administration and on a Senate committee staff. Bolten, 51, became director of the Office of Management and Budget on June 30, 2003.

His closeness to Bush is perceived as an asset, in terms of his knowledge of the president, and as a detriment, given that critics and supporters of the administration are calling for new ideas.

"Josh is a good guy, just not what this White House needs. They need a renovation, not just a new front door," said a senior Republican who served in top positions in Ronald Reagan's White House and spoke on condition of anonymity because he continues to deal with this White House.

"They need people who can give the president honest appraisals, and not just the same group that has gotten him in trouble in the second term," he said.

Lott said Bush needs to hear "more disparate voices."

Nicholas Calio, the White House liaison to Congress during Bush's first term, said Bolten is "the logical and best choice" because "he knows the president, he knows the issues, he knows the personalities."

Besides, he said, Bush is not "particularly susceptible to calls that he needs to shake things up for the sake of shaking things up."

With Card and Bolten flanking him in the Oval Office yesterday morning, Bush said, "Josh is a creative policy thinker. He's an expert on the budget and our economy. He's respected by members of Congress from both parties. He's a strong advocate for effective accountable management in the federal budget."

Card, he said, "has served me and our country in historic times, on a terrible day when America was attacked, during economic recession and recovery, through storms of unprecedented destructive power, in peace and in war."

It was Card who leaned in to the president in an elementary school classroom in Sarasota, Fla., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and whispered that a second airplane had struck the World Trade Center. "America's under attack," he told the president.

He kept the staff working with clocklike efficiency and precision during the 2004 presidential campaign, and, as Bush pointed out, was in charge when Congress enacted the administration's education and Medicare programs and the Senate approved the Supreme Court nominations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Card was also in charge during some of the president's recent stumbles, including the inability to persuade Congress to go along with Bush's proposed overhaul of Social Security, the administration's much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina, and the doomed Supreme Court nomination of White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.

As chief of staff since the day Bush took office, Jan. 20, 2001, Card, 58, was closing in on the record for longevity in that office, held by Sherman Adams, who was Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff chief in the White House for five years and eight months.

Card, deputy White House chief of staff and transportation secretary for Bush's father, was among the first to arrive at the White House - at 5:30 a.m. - and stayed until the president retired for the night.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday that Card approached Bush at the beginning of March and "raised the possibility of stepping down." They have discussed it several times since, most recently on Saturday at Camp David when, McClellan said, Bush "reluctantly accepted his resignation."

In an interview with CNN Espanol, Bush said Card's departure should not be seen as a sign of a larger shake-up. "Josh's job is to design a White House staff that meets the needs of the president," he said.

Asked about the prospect of other changes, he said, "Josh has just begun to take a look at the White House structure. And I haven't had a chance to talk to him about the future yet."

Replacing the chief of staff has become standard for any struggling White House. When his administration was weighed down by the Iran-contra scandal, President Ronald Reagan replaced the rough-edged Donald T. Regan with the genteel Howard H. Baker Jr.

Rich Bond, a Republican political consultant who helped elect President George H.W. Bush and then was chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Bolten's main job will be to boost the president's political standing enough to retain Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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