The Almost Invisible Man Returns

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; 10:09 AM

You might think that with firebrands like senior adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney wielding such power, this White House would run hot.

You watch "The West Wing." You remember the legendary infighting of White Houses past. It must be barely controlled chaos over there, right?

But it's not. And that this White House operates much like an orderly corporate headquarters -- with staffers knowing their place and indulging in few public fights or embarrassing leaks -- is widely considered a testament to the talent and temperament of Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

A forceful presence inside the White House, Card is nevertheless all but invisible outside.

The fact that President Bush signed him up for another term yesterday didn't crack the front pages or the network news. But for the people who work at the White House, this is big news.

Mike Allen writes for The Washington Post: "President Bush, kicking off the first full week of his transition to a second term, made a surprise visit yesterday to the daily senior staff meeting with a news bulletin: Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. will stay in his job. . . .

"The decision appears to signal that Bush wants workaday continuity and plans to continue running a tight White House.

"Card, 57, is known internally as 'The Chief' and around the administration as 'Secretary Card,' for serving as transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush. . . .

"Card, who sets the tone for the White House's message of discipline, is responsible for everything from negotiating legislation with congressional leaders to scheduling the president's haircuts."

Richard W. Stevenson writes for the New York Times: "Mr. Card is an embodiment of the stability and discretion of Mr. Bush's top aides. A former lobbyist for the automotive industry, he was named chief of staff during the transition four years ago and has survived the first term with relatively few bruises. He operates largely behind the scenes. . . .

"Mr. Bush now seems certain to start his second term surrounded at the White House by many of the same aides who have been with him since he was governor of Texas, including Karl Rove, his senior adviser; Dan Bartlett, the communications director, and Mr. McClellan. . . .

"The biggest unanswered question regarding Mr. Bush's inner circle is whether Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser and one of the president's closest confidantes, will stay in her job, move to a cabinet post or leave the government. Neither she nor Mr. Bush has given any public hint of their intentions."

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "Card, 57, a Massachusetts native, is considered the administrative glue that holds the White House staff and cabinet departments together."

Edward Alden writes in the Financial Times: "The chief of staff job has become critical in recent years as presidents have sought to use the White House staff to direct both domestic and foreign policymaking for the entire government.

"Mr Card has established a reputation for running a tight operation at the White House, keeping himself out of the limelight and Mr Bush out of trouble."

Scott Lindlaw writes for the Associated Press: "By accepting an invitation to continue serving, Card ensured his place in history as one of the longest-serving chiefs of staff. The last staff chief who served five years was Sherman Adams, whose boss, President Eisenhower, created the position.

"Card's most visible moments came on Sept. 11, 2001, when he whispered in Bush's ear that airliners had slammed into the World Trade Center; and Wednesday morning, when he told the world before dawn that Bush believed he had won the election.

"Bush values Card for his generally low-profile style. Card doesn't seek attention, only rarely granting news media interviews. He insists that White House staff members call Bush 'Mr. President' but that they call him 'Andy.'

"Subordinates said they admire Card for his work ethic, steady hand and open-door policy."

Here's an AP bio of Card.

There haven't been many significant profiles of Card, and the most recent I could find dates back almost a year (that tells you something, doesn't it?)

Steve Goldstein wrote for Knight-Ridder Newspapers: "As White House chief of staff, Card stays out of the public eye and in the President's ear. He is usually the first and last person -- other than Bush's wife, Laura -- the President sees every day. Card runs the staff and the President's schedule, but more than that, the stocky former state legislator with the broad Boston accent is master and commander of a tight ship that almost never leaks. . . .

"Perhaps the neatest Card trick is making the inevitable White House infighting disappear -- conflicts that often resulted in juicy news leaks for previous administrations as factions jockeyed for primacy."

Card's wife, Kathleene, is the associate pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in McLean. Here's an April profile of her, by Lane Lambert in Card's hometown paper, the Patriot Ledger.

As I wrote in one of my first White House Briefing columns, on Jan. 22, Card described his job in unusually frank terms in a radio interview with syndicated libertarian talk-show host Neal Boortz:

"My day starts very early. I get to the office between 5:30 and quarter of six in the morning, I greet the president when he shows up in the Oval Office, I say 'Good morning, Mr. President, can I have your homework?' And I kind of correct it. Or he corrects mine."

Card also said that one of the hardest parts of his job is scheduling.

"There are only 24 hours in a day. The president has to have time to eat, sleep and be merry, or he'll make angry, grumpy decisions. So I have to make sure he has time to eat, sleep and be merry. But I also have to make sure he has the right time to do the right thing for the country, and that he gets the right information in time, rather than too late."

One other note: If Bush had lost the election, Card would probably have been one of the people held to account. After all, the chief of staff is the man who built the protective "bubble" around the president, largely shielding him from dissent. Some observers suggested that the bubble was to blame for Bush's poor showing in the presidential debates.

But Bush won, Card stays, and the bubble lives.

Second-Term Curse Watch

Second terms are often beset by scandal, notes Dana Milbank in The Washington Post.

"Bush could defy the second-term curse, of course. And, with Congress in friendly hands and with the demise of the independent counsel statute, he has advantages his predecessors did not. But there are several investigations and simmering controversies that were held off until after the election -- and that could present trouble for the president as they resurface."

Here's a partial list: "the probe into the leak of a CIA operative's employment; reports and lawsuits stemming from the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib; probes into prewar intelligence in Iraq and the White House's use of it; and FBI investigations into how sensitive intelligence wound up in the hands of Israelis and Iranians. . . .

"Halliburton gets the prize for being the first to reassert itself since the election. Its SEC filing Friday disclosed more trouble related to investigations by the SEC, Justice, a French magistrate and Nigerian officials into whether a consortium including Halliburton paid $180 million in bribes to Nigerian officials involving a gas plant from 1995 to 2002. Cheney ran the company from 1995 to 2000, and Halliburton bought the unit involved in the consortium in 1998."

Powell on Bush's Mandate

Guy Dinmore writes in the Financial Times: "President George W. Bush has won a mandate from the American people to continue pursuing his 'aggressive' foreign policy, but the US will also reach out to the international community where it can, according to Colin Powell, the secretary of state.

" 'The president is not going to trim his sails or pull back,' Mr Powell told the Financial Times yesterday. 'It's a continuation of his principles, his policies, his beliefs.' In his first interview since the presidential election last Tuesday, Mr Powell stressed Mr Bush had won a mandate to pursue a foreign policy that was in the US national interest.

"That policy would also be in the interest of friends and alliances, and while it would be 'multilateral in nature', the US would act alone where necessary."

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times from a briefing Powell gave on his way to Mexico: "President Bush will make a renewed push during his second term for a temporary worker program to give legal status to some of the millions of migrants currently living illegally in the United States, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Monday evening."

The Limits of Executive Power

A federal judge's ruling yesterday against the special trials in Guantanamo is also a blow to President Bush's campaign to expand executive power.

Neil A. Lewis writes in the New York Times: "A federal judge ruled Monday that President Bush had both overstepped his constitutional bounds and improperly brushed aside the Geneva Conventions in establishing military commissions to try detainees at the United States naval base here as war criminals. . . .

"In the 45-page ruling, the judge said the administration had ignored a basic provision of the Geneva Conventions, the international treaties signed by the United States that form the basic elements of the laws governing the conduct of war."

Today's Calendar

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush is paying a bedside visit to soldiers wounded in Iraq as American forces fight fierce battles in Fallujah to seize insurgent strongholds from Sunni militants."

Bush will "go to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, accompanied by his wife, Laura. On a similar visit in March, the president awarded Purple Hearts to eight soldiers."

Anonymous Watch

Josh Meyer writes in the Los Angeles Times: "A senior CIA counter-terrorism official has defied orders to stop publicly criticizing the U.S. government's response to Al Qaeda, complaining that no one has been held accountable for failures that helped lead to the Sept. 11 attacks and warning that uncorrected management problems continue to put Americans at risk."

In July, Michael Scheuer anonymously published a best-selling book, "Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror."

Briefing Follies

Here's the text of press secretary Scott McClellan's briefing yesterday -- the first televised briefing in more than a month, due to all the campaign-related travel.

Les Kinsolving, one of a handful of non-traditional regulars in the White House briefing room, took advantage of McClellan's return to probe him on whether Bush really thinks Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is going to heaven.

"At the president's news conference when the Washington Times informed him of the story that AP later had to retract about Arafat's death, the president said, 'God bless his soul.' And my question, did the President mean to say 'God cleanse his soul,' or is the president a universalist in believing that everybody goes to heaven?' "

McClellan mercifully ducked the question.

So Kinsolving uncorked another: "On talk radio, which with the Internet countered so much of old Big Media's attempt to drive you and the president out of the White House, there have been a number of callers who have wondered why Helen Thomas has been moved from the front-row reserved seat at presidential news conferences to the rear.

"And my question: Knowing that you and the president both try to be fair, could you tell us what Helen ever did that was as bad as the network that used forged documents to try to malign the president, and whose reserved seat has not been -- "

McClellan had no answer for that one, either. But last I heard, CBS was still allowed in the front row.

Blair Watch

James Blitz writes in the Financial Times: "When Tony Blair prepares for a summit with President George W. Bush, one of his golden rules is never to predict publicly what the president might say.

"But there are high hopes in Downing Street that Thursday's meeting between the two men in Washington -- little more than a week after the president's re-election -- will see a new attempt to inject momentum into the Middle East peace process.

"Mr Blair's official spokesman told reporters yesterday that a 'clear signal of intent' to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians should emerge from the summit."

Blitz adds: "Political observers can be forgiven for being cynical in the face of such enthusiasm."

Curtains for a White House Aide

Richard Leiby asks in The Washington Post's Reliable Sources column: "Now that National Security Council aide Robert Blackwill, President Bush's point man on Iraq, is leaving behind the rigors of government service, will he finally find time to purchase curtains for his Georgetown home? His neighbors, who tell us they've seen far too much of him while he dresses, sure hope so."

© 2004