President George W. Bush’s spokesman on Wednesday dismissed calls for a White House shake-up as “inside Washington babble” after a series of controversies that have pushed Bush’s approval ratings to new lows.
“The president has a smart, capable and experienced team that is fully committed to helping him advance his agenda and get things done for the American people,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
A variety of critics, including a member of Bush’s own Republican Party this week, have complained it is time to bring in some fresh faces to reinvigorate a White House team that has faced crisis after crisis.
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman cited as the most recent example a Republican revolt over an Arab company’s attempt to manage some terminals at six U.S. ports.
Bush’s job approval ratings have tumbled to new lows. A poll by the Pew Research Center put his approval mark at 33 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
It said Bush’s personal image also has weakened noticeably, which is reflected in people’s one-word descriptions of the president. Honesty had been the single trait most closely associated with Bush, but in the current survey “incompetent” was the word used most frequently.
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll put Bush’s job approval rating at 37 percent, the lowest point ever for that survey and a two-point drop since late January.
According to poll of 1,005 adults from March 10-13, 61 percent disapprove of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq.
The White House has struggled to get its footing ever since New Orleans was swamped by Hurricane Katrina six months ago and the federal government was blamed for a bungled response.
Asked about speculation that the White House team was tired, McClellan joked in his morning briefing that he was “tired of some of the questions.”
“This is part of the inside Washington babble that goes on in this town. It’s part of the parlor game. We are focused on the priorities that the American people care most about and getting things done,” he told reporters later.
The fiercely loyal Bush has so far resisted any major restructuring of his White House team led by chief of staff Andy Card.
If Card stays on until September he will be the longest-serving chief of staff ever, surpassing the record of Sherman Adams, who was Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff for five years and nine months.
“I serve at the pleasure of the president for the time being,” Card told Knight Ridder Newspapers recently. “If the pleasure goes, I go. If the time being arrives, I’m gone. And I don’t expect a month’s notice or two weeks’ notice.”
Treasury Secretary John Snow has long been rumored to be on his way out. It has been noted in Washington that the group that approved the Dubai ports deal, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, fell under his jurisdiction.
Some in the administration grumbled privately that someone should have raised a red flag about the ports deal before it became a political liability for Bush.
Bush is looking at candidates to replace Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who announced her resignation last week. Possible replacements are believed to include Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, former Colorado Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and former Utah Republican Rep. Jim Hansen.
McClellan said he expected an announcement soon.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan)
© Reuters 2006