The Karl Rove Ascension

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; 11:41 AM

Karl Rove is now, officially, in charge of pretty much everything at the White House.

But it's mostly just a title change.

President Bush's long-time chief political strategist is now assistant to the president, deputy chief of staff and senior adviser.

That's a lot of titles. But of course Rove has even more nicknames. He's been called "Bush's guru," "Bush's brain," "the man behind the curtain" and "the wizard of the West Wing." Rove himself cracked that his reputation is "evil Rasputin." And Bush alternately calls Rove "the architect," "boy genius," or "turd blossom" -- the last a reference to a West Texas flower that grows in cow manure.

The new titles come with no extra money --Rove was already maxed out on the White House pay scale. But he does move from his modest second-floor office (formerly occupied by Hillary Rodham Clinton) to one just a few steps away from the Oval Office.

If we look at my soon-to-be-updated West Wing floor plan, I figure he'll be shifting his base of operations from No. 24 down to No. 11, now that Harriet Miers has taken over No. 26 as the new White House counsel.

The news is being widely hailed as another indication that Rove has been authorized to use the power of the White House in this second Bush term to carve out a lasting Republican majority.

Critics see Rove's promotion as further evidence that this White House makes little or no distinction between politics and policy.

Rove was already officially in charge of strategic planning, political affairs, liaison to outside groups and intergovernmental affairs. Now he'll also be in charge of coordinating the policies of the National Security Council, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council and the Homeland Security Council.

But here's a thought: Is it possible that this change will actually encumber Rove more than empower him? He may have been more effective as a free-floating brain than he will be in his new role, which is likely to feature almost nonstop meetings, many of them very big. Ask anyone who's been there: Meetings can really hurt your productivity.

And official titles aside, while Bush may achieve lame-duck status in a matter of months, Rove remains king-maker for life. As a result, Rove's influence over Republican elected officials may soon exceed that of his boss, if it doesn't already.

How It Played

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "During President Bush's first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it's official. . . .

"For a man who spent a lifetime in the business of polls and campaign strategy, it is an expansive portfolio cutting across virtually the entire policy spectrum. But many in the White House said the new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well."

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times, calling it "a move that formally gives him what he has had in practice all along, a substantial voice in nearly every issue before the administration. . . .

"In bureaucratic terms, the move struck some analysts as curious. As senior adviser, Mr. Rove has always operated with a relatively free hand and open access to Mr. Bush. In assuming the deputy chief of staff's job as well, he will take on what some White House officials said were mainly administrative duties.

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "Karl Rove's promotion Tuesday elevated his image from the most powerful presidential adviser in modern times to, well, an even more powerful presidential adviser."

And apparently Rove even has groupies. "Fans can search the Internet and buy a camisole ($17.99) or boxer shorts ($14.99) featuring his photo inside a pink heart."

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Rove becomes one of the most influential advisors to serve a president. Experts said it was unusual for any White House aide other than the chief of staff to straddle the worlds of politics and domestic and foreign policy. . . .

"One former Republican White House staffer, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing Rove, called Rove's new job 'the mother of all portfolios.'

" 'I hope he likes going to meetings,' the former aide joked."

G. Robert Hillman writes in the Dallas Morning News: "For Mr. Rove, the promotion from senior adviser to deputy chief of staff expands his already-far reach within the administration -- and gives him a new first-floor, West Wing office close to the president."

Rupert Cornwell writes in the Independent: "George Bush yesterday made official what has been long been an acknowledged fact of Washington life -- the involvement of his top strategist Karl Rove not just in politics but in almost every aspect of administration strategy."

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "President Bush's political mastermind, Karl Rove, is getting a chance to spread his tentacles into White House foreign and domestic policy."

"PREZ GURU PROMOTED," says the headline in the New York Post.

Hotline's "Last Call" asks: "Isn't 'Rove Gets Bigger Role at White House' kind of like saying 'Willy Wonka Takes On More At The Chocolate Factory'?"

Here is the text of Bush's statement on Rove's move.

A Larger Reshuffle

Press secretary Scott McClellan announced several moves at yesterday's gaggle.

As Baker writes: "The Rove announcement capped a season of rebuilding at the White House after the November election. In the three months since, Bush has installed a new domestic policy chief, economic adviser, national security adviser, counsel, communications director, chief speechwriter and political director, among others.

"The White House announced yesterday that Gerson, chief speechwriter in the first term, will serve as a policy and strategic planning adviser, to be replaced by former Wall Street Journal editorial writer William McGurn. Bush also named campaign strategist Sara Taylor political director and broadened the portfolio of policy adviser Kristen Silverberg.

"Deputy press secretary Claire Buchan will leave the White House on Friday to become chief of staff to incoming Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez; she will be replaced by Dana Perino, communications director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online taking your questions and comments today at 1 p.m. ET.

Jeff Gannon Watch

It looks like Jeff Gannon, the controversial White House correspondent for a tiny conservative outfit called Talon News, won't be showing his face in the White House briefing room anymore.

Gannon, who often threw softball questions to McClellan, hit the bigtime after pitching a real corker to Bush himself at his Jan. 26 news conference.

I've written about Gannon many times.

But the question to Bush really set off the blogosphere's left wing. Fueled by the Media Matters Web site, a virtual army of independent bloggers, particularly from the Daily Kos site, started digging into Gannon's background.

Timothy Karr summarizes the hunt against Gannon.

Here's Gannon's statement, from "Because of the attention being paid to me I find it is no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life.

"Thank you to all those who supported me."

Two More Bubble Trips?

In a last-minute schedule addition, the White House has added two Social Security events on Thursday. Bush will fly to Raleigh and Philadelphia for two more conversations about Social Security which, as I wrote in yesterday's column, have thus far been carefully controlled to keep Bush in a bubble, protected from critics and hostile questions.

Valerie Bauerlein writes in the Raleigh News and Observer that Bush will attend a morning event at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts.

"Bush will be host for an hourlong conversation with business leaders, seniors and young people who support his plan. . . .

"Tickets will be tough to come by. Many are given to local backers, though a small number are available through the offices of [Sen. Elizabeth] Dole and Sen. Richard Burr." Dole and Burr, of course, are Republicans.

Carrie Budoff writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "President Bush is scheduled to return to Pennsylvania tomorrow for the first time since Election Day as part of his campaign to restructure Social Security.

"Bush is expected at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell at 4:35 p.m. for a 'conversation on strengthening Social Security,' according to the White House. . . .

"Participants in the event in Blue Bell must have tickets, which are being distributed through the college and the offices of Specter and Santorum, according to the White House."

But Pamela Lehman writes in the Allentown Morning Call: "Tickets to the event are available to the public through the county's GOP headquarters, said Adam Gattuso, executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Committee. Residents can call 610-279-9300 to get tickets, he said."

An Alternative Solution?

Susan Page writes for USA Today: "Most Americans are willing to endorse painful steps to ensure Social Security's long-term solvency -- steps that nick the rich, that is.

"Two-thirds of those surveyed by USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup last weekend say it would be a 'good idea' to limit retirement benefits for the wealthy and to subject all wages to payroll taxes. Now, annual earnings above $90,000 aren't taxed.

"But some ideas that President Bush said in his State of the Union address were on the table for consideration are rejected by solid majorities."

Here are the poll results.

Apparent Contradictions

Jonathan Weisman and Ben White write in The Washington Post: "To conclude that Social Security is careening toward a crisis in 2042, President Bush is relying on projections that an aging society will drag down economic growth. Yet his proposal to establish personal accounts is counting on strong investment gains in financial markets that would be coping with the same demographic head wind.

"That seeming contradiction has become fodder for a heated debate among economists, who divide sharply between those who believe the stock market cannot meet the president's expectations and those who say investor demand from a faster-growing developing world will keep stock prices rising."

The Social Security Pitch

David E. Rosenbaum and Robin Toner write in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush held another in a series of meetings with Congressional Republicans on Tuesday to try to allay their concerns.

"Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said he did not get the sense that the president was worried about the plan's reception. 'He's looking forward to the debate,' Mr. Shays said. 'He's having fun. The election's over, he's got four years, and I think he's determined to have a good four years.'

"Several who attended the meeting said some lawmakers voiced concerns over the political difficulty of the issue. Mr. Shays said, 'Some people said this is one of the toughest votes, and he said, "No, the toughest is sending people off to war." ' "

Budget Watch

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush's second-term agenda would expand not only the size of the federal government but also its influence over the lives of millions of Americans by imposing new national restrictions on high schools, court cases and marriages.

"In a clear break from Republican campaigns of the 1990s to downsize government and devolve power to the states, Bush is fostering what amounts to an era of new federalism in which the national government shapes, not shrinks, programs and institutions to comport with various conservative ideals, according to Republicans inside and outside the White House."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "The chairman of the House Budget Committee, anticipating stiff resistance to the administration's new spending plan, told the White House budget chief on Tuesday that President Bush might need to consider his first veto to hold Congress in line."

Christopher Swann writes in the Financial Times: "One day after President George W. Bush presented the most austere budget of his presidency, advocates for the poor were working hard to paint him as a Robin Hood in reverse -- a president who robs the needy to give to the rich."

Bush in Detroit

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush prodded Congress on Tuesday to adopt what he called the most disciplined federal budget in more than 20 years, warning lawmakers that sacrifices must be made to finance a wartime government."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush campaigned on Tuesday for his $2.57 trillion budget before a friendly audience of auto executives and civic leaders, and pointedly told them that Congress and the nation's business community 'have expressed their concerns about federal spending, and I've listened.' "

Glenn Maffei wrote for States News Service yesterday: "Detroit Economic Club officials said Monday the traditional question and answer period after the speech has been dropped for Bush's visit." They didn't explain why.

Here's the text of Bush's speech.

Medicare Watch

Ceci Connolly and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "The White House released budget figures yesterday indicating that the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost more than $1.2 trillion in the coming decade, a much higher price tag than President Bush suggested when he narrowly won passage of the law in late 2003. . . .

"Beginning with his January 2003 State of the Union address, Bush pledged to keep the total cost of the drug benefit to $400 billion over 10 years. . . .

"The disclosure prompted new criticism by Democrats about the administration's long-term budget estimates. It also showed that Medicare, the national medical insurance program for seniors, may pose a far more serious budgetary problem in the coming decade than concerns about the solvency of Social Security."

Today's Calendar

Bush meets with the president of Poland, then holds a "conversation on class action reform" at the Department of Commerce.

Executive Power and Torture

The New Yorker's Jane Meyer speaks with John C. Yoo, who in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks was one of the administration lawyers who redefined the standards of interrogation.

"Yoo also argued that the Constitution granted the President plenary powers to override the U.N. Convention Against Torture when he is acting in the nation's defense -- a position that has drawn dissent from many scholars. As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn't have the power to 'tie the President's hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.' He continued, 'It's the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can't prevent the President from ordering torture.' If the President were to abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief, Yoo said, the constitutional remedy was impeachment. He went on to suggest that President Bush's victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was 'proof that the debate is over.' He said, 'The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.' "

That's reminiscent of Bush's assertion, in a Washington Post interview last month, that the country's "accountability moment" was passed. (See my Jan. 18 column.)

Ari Speaks

Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post: "Now here's a shocker: Don't expect to read anything critical of President Bush in former White House spinner Ari Fleischer's new memoir, 'Taking Heat.' Fleischer had 'several' policy disagreements with Bush, he says in an interview in the March issue of GQ, but won't talk about them or cite any mistakes his boss might have made: 'I believe in the man. I believe in his policies,' he says. 'I choose not to be a critic.' "

Not So Fast

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post: "Not so fast, Abu Mazen. Sure, President Bush has just invited you to come visit. . . .

"But the House is set to take up today a bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that apparently would prevent Mazen from entering the country."

Controversial Nominee

Andrew Martin writes in the Chicago Tribune that Bush has once again submitted Thomas Dorr's name for the post of undersecretary of rural development in the Department of Agriculture.

"Dorr, 58, a farmer from Marcus, Iowa, is a controversial choice to oversee rural development, in part because he has touted the virtues of large-scale agriculture and suggested that several Iowa counties had prospered because most of the residents are white."

Senate Democrats blocked Dorr from the same post during Bush's first term.

That Testy Dinner

James Kuhnhenn writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Despite a White House dinner date with the president the previous night, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid was still pretty steamed Tuesday about a 12-page Republican National Committee e-mail that described him as the 'chief Democratic obstructionist.' . . .

"As for dinner Monday with Bush, Reid said the president raised the subject of the mailing. He would not reveal what Bush said. But, when asked if the president appeased him, Reid told reporters: 'When you have a real bad chafe . . . it's hard to get soothed.' "

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