President Bush has come under increasing pressure from within his own party to shake up his White House staff in an effort to revitalize his troubled presidency. His naming of budget director Josh Bolten to replace Andrew Card as chief of staff was greeted by Republicans as a step in that direction.
But Bolten’s appointment hardly represented the infusion of new blood that some had urged. Bolten is a longtime adviser to the president and, like Card, has preferred to operate in a low key, behind-the-scenes fashion.
Some Republicans argued for Bush to bring in prominent outsider, perhaps a GOP elder statesman, to take charge of the White House operation, much as President Reagan did in 1987 when he named former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker of Tennessee to be his chief of staff after the Iran-Contra arms and money affair.
But those familiar with how Bush operates suggested that was unlikely, as long as Vice President Dick Cheney continues to help shape day-to-day administration policy and so long as Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, remains on the job.
“Cheney is the de facto chief of staff. He’s two steps down the hall. He’s like a barnacle; he’s not going anywhere,” said Paul Light, a presidential historian at New York University. Few experienced Republican hands would be enthusiastic about taking on Cheney, Light suggested.
The White House held out the possibility that Bolten’s appointment could presage other staff changes.
“I still think this president would be served by having someone fresh come in. It would be a matter of making room at the table,” said David Gergen, a former White House adviser who served in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton and who teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Still, Gergen said, “it’s got to be someone the president wants. He is most comfortable with the team that’s been loyal to him over the years. I think this appointment (of Bolten) says this in large, bold letters.”
As director of the Office of Management and Budget, Bolten brings experience in working with Congress _ and one of his first assignments may be to patch up White House strains with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“All of us have gotten to know Josh Bolten in our negotiations over the budget and found him to be a very tough but very good representative of the president,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “He understands budgetary issues as well.”
“He rides motorcycles. He is very thoughtful, quiet,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said in an interview. “When he speaks, everybody listens.”
“I think that he will continue likely in the same tradition of Andy Card,” Frist added, “which is very organized, very disciplined, (in a) respectful way.”
Beginning with Hurricane Katrina, the White House has come under widespread criticism for failing to recognize the seriousness of a succession of troubles that analysts in both parties say should have raised early warning signs _ especially for an administration that prided itself on discipline and political skills.
The administration failed to gauge the extent of GOP opposition last month, for example, to the now-abandoned plan to have an Arab company based in Dubai run terminals at some U.S. ports. Likewise, last fall it misjudged the depth of conservative rebellion to Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers, later withdrawn.
Clashes with some Republicans over the president’s domestic surveillance program have also brought increasing criticism of the White House at a time when Bush’s approval ratings are at an all-time low and public unease about the Iraq war threatens continued GOP control of Congress.
“There’s no question that since Katrina, there have been some missteps that have shaped the president’s inability to get a message out,” GOP political consultant Scott Reed said. “These are no one person’s fault. But they happened. And now it’s time to get back on the offensive.”
Card, who has served at Bush’s side since January 2001, said it was time to return to private life. “It is a different season, and Josh Bolten is the right person for that season,” Card said Tuesday in the Oval Office after the president announced his resignation. Card will stay until April 14.
Card’s tenure as chief of staff was approaching that of Sherman Adams, who served President Eisenhower for a record six years.
“I honestly think it was just a matter of time,” said former Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., who served as President Clinton’s chief of staff after serving as budget director. “These are tough jobs. They take a lot out of you. You get burned out pretty quickly.”
Panetta said he benefited from his OMB experience and predicted Bolten would, too: “That OMB job gives you a good perspective of the entire administration. You’re making judgments every day as to what programs should be supported and which ones are not working.”
Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.
© 2006 The Associated Press