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Who's Next?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 29, 2006; 11:57 AM

President Bush's replacement of his chief of staff with another consummate White House insider is looking more and more like small change -- unless of course it turns out to be the start of something big.

In an interview with CNN en Espaņol yesterday afternoon, Bush pretty bluntly suggested that Josh Bolten's accession to the job currently held by Andy Card could result in a lot more movement within the White House.

"[N]ow Josh's job is to design a White House staff that meets the needs of the President, which is one of the key -- most important needs is to make sure I get information in a timely fashion so I can make decisions," Bush said, in what sounded almost like an admission that the current staff doesn't meet his needs.

"Q Any more changes coming up?

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, 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."

That last assertion seems decidedly unlikely, of course -- and it's highly suggestive that more moves are in the works. But whether we're just talking about further internal reshuffles -- or some real live new blood at high levels -- is not at all clear.

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post: "White House officials emphasized that Bolten would have the prerogative to bring in fresh staff members and revamp operations to suit his leadership style. The White House must find a replacement for domestic policy adviser Claude A. Allen, who resigned after being accused of stealing from retail stores, and now a new budget director. At least one or two other senior officials are expected to leave for their own reasons by the end of the school year this spring, a senior official said.

"White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not speculate on the future of other high-level White House staff members, including Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, who has been under investigation by a special prosecutor in the CIA leak case."

David Jackson and Andrea Stone write in USA Today: "President Bush's new chief of staff will look at possible changes in White House operations and staff as the administration grapples with political problems that include falling approval ratings and strained relations with congressional Republicans."

So Far, Though, a Big Yawn

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times that the change is "a step unlikely to satisfy calls within his own party for fresh thinking to address the administration's troubles.

"In turning to Joshua B. Bolten, his budget director, as the new chief of staff, the president stayed within what one close associate called a 'circle of comfort' and what Mr. Bush's critics consider a closed world that brooks little doubt or dissent. . . .

"People close to Mr. Bush said he deliberately chose an insider who understood how this White House operated, even at the risk of angering Republican members of Congress who have said the White House has failed to consult with them sufficiently and blundered on the response to Hurricane Katrina, the nomination of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court and the handling of Dubai's effort to take over management of some American port terminal operations."

Tom Raum writes for the Associated Press: "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."

Zachary Coile writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "After months of anticipation, the long-rumored shakeup in the Bush White House announced Tuesday looked more like a game of musical chairs than a major change in personnel."

Mike Allen writes for Time that "this is the comfort food of staff changes."

John Dickerson writes in Slate: "George Bush built a pond just outside the front door of his Crawford, Texas, home so that he wouldn't have to walk far to fish. This is how he picked his new chief of staff, too. . . .

"He has once again made the pundits and nameless advisers look foolish. He has also defined 'the bolten' as a new unit of Washington measurement. It is the smallest staff change possible short of doing nothing at all."

Ann Compton writes for ABC News: "Washington's political pundits got the big White House shake-up they'd been calling for, but on the president's terms, not theirs. . . .

"Why not bring in a superstar? Why stay the course? Bush seems to relish sticking it to the inside-the-beltway mentality in Washington."

Is He Listening?

Jim VandeHei is pretty much out there alone this morning with his analysis in The Washington Post, in which he concludes that Card's departure is evidence that Bush is finally paying attention capital's political and media culture.

"Bush, his advisers say, has by no means changed his view of what he derisively calls the 'chattering class.' But the Card move is only the latest sign that -- with his presidency under the stress of low public approval ratings, an unpopular war and a stalled legislative agenda -- Bush is more often deferring to the expectations of Washington conventional wisdom. . . .

"The Card resignation by itself does not signal a radical shift for this White House. But aides said more changes will come and that Bush is strongly considering adding one or two well-known Republicans to help soothe relations with Congress."

Live Online

I'm Live Online today an hour early, at noon ET. I hope you can make it, and chime in . If not, at least come read the transcript.

Meet Josh Bolten

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "Bolten will take over a political operation gone astray -- mired in an overseas war, stalled in its domestic agenda, sagging in the polls and alienated from congressional Republican allies.

"Like Card, Bolten is a Bush loyalist, known as self-effacing and efficient, not especially ideological, not a promoter of his own agenda, a quiet professional in a town filled with vast egos. Yet this workaholic bachelor and self-described 'policy geek' in glasses is the picture of contradictions. Bolten, 51, spends his few off-hours racing down the highway on his prized Harley-Davidson Fat Boy or bowling in the White House alley or banging out tunes in a rock band he named Deficit Attention Disorder.

"His office in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House attests to his personality. Rather than stock it with pictures of Bush, as many aides do, Bolten hung a large portrait of Eisenhower in military uniform above the fireplace and put a Harley-Davidson book on the mantle. Nearby is a motorcycle menorah. Not one to take himself too seriously, Bolten even hung a drawing by a niece that a visitor recalled was titled 'Uncle Josh's Poop Calendar.' "

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times that "the question is whether Mr. Bolten is the man to right a listing presidency, and whether his skills, instincts and access to Mr. Bush are enough to overcome public anger over the war in Iraq and the growing questions in Washington about the competence of the West Wing staff. Mr. Bolten, after all, has been with Mr. Bush from his first days as a presidential candidate, and in the last three years has presided over the biggest budget deficits in the history of the United States."

Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Joshua B. Bolten may be as much a loyalist as the rest of President Bush's inner circle, but he cuts a very distinct profile outside the West Wing: He rides a motorcycle, loves to bowl and keeps a copy of the children's book 'Walter the Farting Dog' on his coffee table."

Helen Kennedy writes in the New York Daily News about Bolten's talent for self-effacement.

"As a gag, some colleagues at the Office of Budget and Management took pictures of Bolten, singer Michael Bolton and UN Ambassador John Bolton to the Mall and asked people to pick the nation's budget director. Even in as wonky a town as Washington, none could."

Possibly the most extensive profile of Bolten out there is the one written by Jeff Birnbaum in the Summer 2004 issue of the Stanford Law School alumni magazine.

" 'He's soft-spoken but very clear thinking,' said Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser. 'I love him in an entirely appropriate way. He's a wonderful person. He's professionally and personally one of the best people I've ever worked with.' "

Bolten "helped conceive one of the quirkiest and most successful campaign organizations in 2000, Bikers for Bush. During the group's first rally, Bolten rode a newly purchased bike to the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames. In honor of that trip, Rove only half in jest gave Bolten, who is Jewish, the biker handle 'Bad Mitzvah.' "

And, Birnbaum writes: "Josh Bolten tries to find time to practice his religion despite his busy schedule. He belongs to a local temple, tries to attend Sabbath dinner at his sister's house when he can on Friday nights, and doesn't eat pork. The Bushes have been sensitive to this fact and always put a big mushroom on their grill during barbecues so that Bolten will have something he can eat. At Bolten's first cabinet meeting last year, the President asked him to give the opening prayer and Bolten did -- in Hebrew."

Here's the transcript of Bolten's May 2005 appearance on C-SPAN Q&A with Brian Lamb.

"BOLTEN: You know, I've ridden motorcycles for a long time, it's not just a midlife crisis adoption. I've been riding motorcycles for about 25 years. And I enjoy it now I think especially because it's a form of relaxation and diversion that beautiful and exhilarating. But you have to concentrate. So you need to clear your mind of everything else, because if you're not concentrating properly when you're riding a motorcycle, you're putting your life in danger."

The Demise of Card

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write in Newsweek that the Dubai ports deal is what finally did Card in.

"It's unfair to lay the blame for the ports debacle solely at Card's door. But it's also important to understand the context of his offer to quit and Bush's mulling over whether to accept. Card was more than the man who controlled access to the Oval Office. He was one of the two chief lobbyists for the White House on Capitol Hill -- the other being Vice President Dick Cheney. And nothing encapsulated Bush's loss of control in Congress like the ports takeover. . . .

"In recent weeks, Card has publicly embraced his role as human sponge. He told The New York Times that people should direct their criticism at him, not the president. 'I take responsibility for everything that has not happened well,' he said. 'When people are frustrated, they should be frustrated at me. It's my job.' "

Editorial Roundup

Washington Post : "Yesterday Mr. Bush responded to his unsought counselors as he usually does, by ignoring them. He accepted the resignation of his notoriously long-serving, notoriously hard-working chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., but he did not exactly replace him with a fresh face. . . .

"Other personnel changes may follow, but the lesson of this one is that Mr. Bush sees no need for new thinking."

New York Times: "If this is what passes for a shake-up in this administration, the next two and a half years are going to be grim indeed. This is a meaningless change, and it simply sends the message that Mr. Bush lacks the gumption to trade in anyone in the comforting, friendly cast of characters who have kept him cocooned since his first inauguration.

"It's hard to figure out what unmet need this change is supposed to fill. There's been a lot of talk about how exhausted the original Bush team is. But Mr. Bolten ought to be as pooped as everybody else. It takes just as much energy to put together an out-of-whack, fiscally ruinous budget as it does to mess up an invasion or ignore a cataclysmic hurricane."

Louisville Courier-Journal : "Meanwhile, political guru Karl Rove presides in the White House, searching for divisive issues that can be exploited for partisan gains.

"And, above all, Vice President Dick Cheney still shows no limits to his contempt for openness, truth-telling and the respect of other nations.

"And those are only some of the heads that should roll.

"If the President is serious about giving his tenure a fresh coat of paint -- and we'll see about that -- Andrew Card is not even the logical place to start.

"He certainly better not be the end of it."

Kaiser's View

Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser was Live Online yesterday:

"I have been here since JFK, and I have never seen a White House that has had so few infusions of new talent in the course of a presidency. There has literally been no senior person added to the staff who wasn't there at the beginning. To me this is a clue to Bush's own political character that probably deserves more attention than it has gotten. Many have written that we have an incurious president, which I think is probably true. But more than that, we have a president whose own comfort factor seems more important to him than anything else. As he has told us again and again, he likes, and is comfortable with, the staff he created in 2001. He has never really changed it."

Iraq Watch, Part One

Edward Wong writes in the New York Times: "The American ambassador has told Shiite officials that President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday. . . .

"The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting on Saturday to pass on a 'personal message from President Bush' to the interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite member of Parliament who was at the meeting.

"Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush 'doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept' Mr. Jaafari as the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc."

Playing Word Games

At yesterday's briefing , spokesman Scott McClellan engaged in one of his classic obfuscations. He didn't actually deny that Bush had sent such a message -- but rather seized on a questioner's assertion that the message was in the form of a letter to make it sound like a broader denial.

"Q Scott, on Iraq, there's a report that the President does not want Prime Minister al Jafaari to lead a new government of national unity, and that he actually put this into some sort of a letter or some sort of communication to a Shiite leader. Does the President want Prime Minister al Jafaari to move forward as leader?

"MR. McCLELLAN: What we are doing is encouraging the Iraqi leaders to move forward on a government of national unity, based on strong leadership. It is up to the Iraqi people to decide who the prime minister is. And I don't think that's an accurate report at all, what you just described.

"Q So the President did not contact any Shiite leaders and tell them what he thinks?

"MR. McCLELLAN: I know of no letter."

Hypocrisy Watch

First Draft's Holden notes, tongue in blogger cheek, how things have changed since just this past June, when Bush hosted Jaafari at the White House.

From the transcript of that meeting:

"The Prime Minister is a great Iraqi patriot, he's a friend of liberty, he's a strong partner for peace and freedom. . . .

"I appreciate Prime Minister Jaafari's brave leadership. Prime Minister Jaafari is a bold man. I've enjoyed my discussions with the Prime Minister. He is a frank, open fellow who is willing to tell me what's on his mind."

Iraq Watch, Part Two

From the CNN en Espaņol interview:

"Q President -- Iraq. You've been telling people the U.S. is going the right way. But the polls -- and you've said you don't follow the polls -- the polls say people don't agree with you. Could it be that they're right and you're wrong?

"THE PRESIDENT: History will prove whether I'm right. I think I'll be right, because I do believe freedom is universal. I remember it wasn't all that long ago that 11 million Iraqis went to the polls in the face of terrorist threats, in the face of potential assassination, and said, we want to be free."

Hamdan Watch

Charles Lane writes in The Washington Post: "A long-awaited test of the judiciary's power during wartime came to the Supreme Court yesterday, and, contrary to the urgings of the Bush administration, the justices did not seem inclined to duck it.

"During a 90-minute oral argument on the legality of the military commissions President Bush has set up to try terrorism suspects, most members of the court resisted -- sometimes sharply -- the administration's request to dismiss the case because of a new federal law circumscribing appeals by terrorism suspects. . . .

"The court's defense of its turf does not bode well for the Bush administration's broader arguments in defense of the military commissions, but it remained unclear how the justices might ultimately rule on the merits of the case."

Five Judges Speak

Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "Five former judges on the nation's most secretive court, including one who resigned in apparent protest over President Bush's domestic eavesdropping, urged Congress on Tuesday to give the court a formal role in overseeing the surveillance program.

"In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president's constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.

"Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law 'like everyone else.' If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, 'the president ignores it at the president's peril.' "

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press: "The administration contends the president has inherent war powers under the Constitution to order eavesdropping without warrants.

" 'I am very wary of inherent authority' claimed by presidents, testified U.S. Magistrate Judge Allan Kornblum. 'It sounds very much like King George.'"

Late Night Humor

From Jay Leno on the Tonight Show:

"We are now down to the Final Four -- not college basketball, but the number of people who still think President Bush is doing a good job."

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