Bush press secretary quits, Rove ends policy role
WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, resigned on Wednesday and senior adviser Karl Rove gave up the policy-development part of his job in a White House shake-up.
The moves were part of an effort by new White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, who started work last weekend, to help Bush rebound from sagging polls and bolster American confidence in his leadership.
Bush’s job approval ratings are hovering around the high 30s, the lowest of his presidency, pushed down in part by growing public disillusion with the Iraq war.
“I have given it my all, sir,” a choked-up McClellan told Bush outside the White House before a group of reporters in a surprise announcement.
McClellan’s departure comes after nearly three years in the job. Republican critics have called the White House communications operation ineffective, and although McClellan has not been in charge of it, his has been a highly visible face.
McClellan, 38, doggedly stuck to his talking points through day after day of often contentious media briefings.
“It is an opportunity as we continue to work through this transition to bring new faces and new members to the team to help enact the president’s agenda,” a senior White House official said.
Rove’s job change meant that he has survived the shake-up, although with a shrunken portfolio. White House insiders said they expected him to remain as influential as ever.
Some critics have called for a more-dramatic administration overhaul, such as replacing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary John Snow.
Rove is a political operative instrumental in Bush’s two presidential election victories and a lightning rod for Democratic critics. He added policy development to his portfolio at the start of Bush’s second term.
But major second-term initiatives such as a Social Security overhaul stalled, and Republicans said Bolten wanted to bring in his own person. Rove’s policy role will be taken over by Joel Kaplan, currently the deputy White House budget director.
Rove, one of Bush’s core group from Texas, remains under investigation for possible perjury charges related to the leak of a CIA official’s identity in 2003 after her husband criticized the Bush administration’s handling of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq.
He will focus on politics as Republicans try to keep control of both houses of Congress in November mid-term elections.
“This lifts a burden off of Karl,” a top White House official said. “This will free up Karl to focus on a very broad portfolio.”
Republican strategist Scott Reed said, “Rove is a smart guy and knows when the winds of change are blowing. This was a clever move to restructure and make the White House functional.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean called Rove’s job change a demotion and said Bush was engaging in “window-dressing,” when he should be changing policies.
Like Rove a Texas insider, McClellan said he would stay for two or three weeks to allow for a transition to his still-unnamed successor.
Possible replacements included Fox News Radio host Tony Snow, a presidential speechwriter for Bush’s father, former deputy White House press secretary Trent Duffy and Dan Senor, a coalition spokesman in Baghdad during the Iraq war.
“The White House is going through a period of transition; change can be helpful … I am ready to move on,” McClellan said. He suggested he would return to Texas before Bush gets there at the end of his term.