In some ways, the changes in the Bush administration resemble an old, time cattle drive: move ’em in, move ’em out.
OUT: Press Secretary Scott McClellan, reportedly beloved among the Bush White House staff but was someone who the television camera clearly did not bless. When McClellan faced reporters the tube made him look as if he was undergoing root canals on all his teeth. At the same time. Without anesthetic. And you could seemingly sense every wet bead of perspiration on his face. The AP writes that “McClellan….has become the face of the Bush White House…[and] as Bush’s poll ratings plummet and the war in Iraq drags on, that face has become more opaque and troubled, the briefings more contentious.”
OUT (Partly): Bush right hand man Karl Rove, being freed from some of the domestic chores added onto his job after President George Bush’s 2004 re-election. Some have suggested this is a “demotion” for Rove; most likely, it’s what it seems to be: The White House letting Rove do what Rove does best…freeing him up to concentrate on trying to hold onto the Congress in the face of plummeting polls and growing voter ire and distrust of the White House and the GOP. If the White House has to choose between Karl Rove diluted or Karl Rove concentrated on political strategy to hold the Congress which would they choose? They did.
IN: White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolton who has shown that he is willing to shuffle the deck.
The question: is shuffling the old deck enough? Or will true change and a true turnaround only come about when some NEW cards are put in place to replace the worn out old ones. Bringing in new cards for the old deck — and in some cases almost a new deck — is what has helped some other second term Presidents who were in trouble over the years.
The spin from some(but not all) Bush partisans and the White House is that these are bold changes, natural ones, and really don’t reflect a crisis. But that isn’t how it’s seen by many observers.
In a White House known for both defiance and optimism, yesterday’s senior staff changes represent a frank acknowledgment of the trouble in which President Bush now finds himself. They are also a signal of how starkly Bush’s second-term ambitions have shifted after a year of persistent problems at home and abroad.
Longtime Bush confidant Karl Rove — who had hoped to use his position of deputy chief of staff to usher in an expansive conservative agenda — was relieved of his policy portfolio to concentrate on long-term strategy and planning for a November midterm election that looks increasingly bleak for Republicans.
Rove probably will remain one of the most influential voices in the White House, but his shift in responsibilities suggests that new White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten intends to operate a different White House than his predecessor, Andrew H. Card Jr., who resigned after more than five years at the helm.
Bolten’s White House, say former administration officials and Republican strategists, is likely to have clearer lines of authority and less free-lancing by powerful officials. They also expect Bolten to play a more active and influential role in shaping domestic policy than did Card.
More significantly, they said, unlike Card, who took as his principal responsibility the management of the president, Bolten probably will operate more in the mold of chiefs of staffs in previous administrations, who saw their role as managing the entire White House and sought to oversee the entire federal government, as well.
So, on balance, if certain things fall into place, GWB can indeed benefit from the changes…if Bolten chances one part of the style of governing that has brought some of the problems upon the White House.
A former White House official who had talked recently with Bolten said Wednesday’s moves resulted from Bolten’s view that he needed to address three serious problems facing Bush: deteriorating press coverage, souring relations with Congress, and increasing tensions between the White House and GOP candidates. The former official asked not to be identified because of concern the White House might not appreciate his comments during a difficult time.
The troubles are circling just seven months before the midterm elections, in which Democrats hope to make gains by turning local contests into a nationwide referendum on the performance of the president and his party.
Congressional Republicans have been pressing the White House for staff changes, and several welcomed Wednesday’s announcement — while anticipating more shifts soon. Those could include naming a new Treasury secretary to replace John W. Snow, who has drawn fire as deficits mount.
The key question, as ABC News notes, is whether these changes mean any kind of a new agenda or just shuffling a few people around:
For months, Republicans close to the White House have been calling for major staff changes, especially an overhaul of the communications and congressional offices. Though few people on the inside believe McClellan is responsible for the president’s troubles, it’s believed to be one very visible way to signal a fresh start.
“The president is in serious political trouble,” said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan research organization. “The prospects for November look dire. Right now Democrats have to be favored to regain control of the House, so under those circumstances you look to change the dynamic and one of the easiest ways of doing that is to move some people around.”
Moving people is exactly what they’re doing. In addition to changing the face behind the press podium, the president has brought in a new deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan, who will coordinate policy inside the West Wing. He’s taking over a portion of Karl Rove’s duties (more on that below).
The underlying question: does moving some people around change the dynamic enough so that the White House operates in a smoother way when the next major crisis rolls around? Most likely answer: it will operate a mite smoother due to changes and being a bit gun-shy. But are these changes and ones subject to speculation profound enough?
“The president is in perilous political shape,” says Brooking Institute analyst Thomas Mann. “This administration is looking for anything that might get them out of trouble.”
However most experts agree that the changes are more decorative than fundamental.
Another political analyst, and editor of Congressional Quarterly, Chris Lehmann, describes the shake-up as “merely rearranging the furniture at the White House”.
He argues: “This is the way an administration creates the illusion of change at minimal cost to itself – it’s an old dog doing a not-very-new trick.”
Knight-Ridder Newspapers is even more blunt about whether this means substantive change:
Like the previous personnel shifts, the latest moves are largely cosmetic and aren’t likely to result in any dramatic policy changes. Bush is expected to name a replacement for McClellan within days; Rove will continue to serve as Bush’s chief political strategist, while giving up direct responsibility for domestic and foreign policy.
The reshuffling is part of an effort by newly installed White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to re-energize the Bush administration and boost confidence in the president’s leadership. But the changes to date have been incremental, typically replacing one insider with another.
Bush has resisted calls for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or other dramatic shifts that could signal a new course at the White House.
“The person at the top matters most. You can shuffle the deck, but the president is the ace of spades, and he’s not going to change,” said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on federal personnel issues.
Even if he wanted to make big changes, Bush faces a shrinking pool of applicants.
“At this stage of an administration, nearly six years into it, it’s incredibly difficult to get new people. Time is short. The most creative, interesting things have already been done,” said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, and a veteran of the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.
Will it help to move ’em in, move ’em out? Or after a few months will many Americans in increasingly growing numbers still be beefing about this administration?
HERE’S A CROSS-SECTION OF WEB OPINION ON THIS ISSUE:
—Classic Love Song: “I guess he wanted to spend more time lying to his family.”
—James Joyner: “The Rove move will get the most attention, given his perceived status as the presidentâ€™s number one advisor. How much different it will make on a substantive level remains to be seen. Replacing McClellan will probably not make that much difference, as the public is only vaguely aware of him. He has to be exhausted, though, given nearly three years of the daily grind that goes with the job, especially in the current environment.”
—All Spin Zone: “This is not a big surprise, since he’s [McClellan] been taking a tremendous amount of flack recently as the mouthpiece of BushCo. I’ve often wondered how he could even look at himself in the mirror in the morning to shave.”
—Conservaglobe: “I have a great deal of respect for Mr. McClellan, he served the administration well and I admire anyone who has the guts to go up against the White House Press Corps. That said, I think that the Bush Administration has a golden opportunity here. Rumor has it that radio talk show host and former Fox News anchor Tony Snow is one of the front-runners to replace McClellan, and I think that he would be an absolutely fantastic choice.”
—Atlas Shrugs: “The White House needs a star in that spot, Bush has a hard enough time getting his message out to an unwilling, hostile media elite….Uh, could Rummy do double duty? I love how he handles those thumbsuckers.”
–Crooks and Liars has THIS GREAT VIDEO compilation of McClellan.
—Needlenose: “I don’t particularly buy Sid Blumenthal’s notion that Rover is in the legal doghouse just because of what’s been revealed in the court filings by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and the lawyers for Scooter Libby; I think he’s overinterpreting the excerpts he quotes. But Jeralyn Merritt’s rumor that Fitz’s grand jury met today and discussed Rove, however vague, rings somewhat true to me.”
—Wizbang: “The job of press secretary is a brutal one and Scott did a great job. No word about whom may take his job.”
—The Talking Dog writes: “Given the announcement of White House spokesman Scott McLellan’s resignation, and Karl Rove’s reduction in duties as part of the package, I can only think of one man worthy of replacing Scotty. Meet the new White House Press Secretary:” CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PHOTO
I have said many times that McClellan was never good at this job, and that he often created scandals by his own handling of the press corps. The biggest confusion he ever caused was when Bush said he would fire anyone who had broken the law, which McClellan bungled into meaning that he would fire anyone who had anything to do with the leak. Bush later had to correct McClellan’s error, which was a tizzy of an issue for a little while in the media. This is not something that should happen with a press secretary. Now let’s see who they choose to fill the spot, and watch the liberal blogosphere start their smear operations.
—The Gun Toting Liberal (who also has a lot of great links):
For certain, Scott McClellanâ€™s done a great job when you consider that his job description was basically, to lie about and spin on what the Presidentâ€™s been up to since the last press conference to the American People. This has got to be one of the toughest jobs in America – being thrown to the wolves for one of the most controversial Presidents the world has ever had to deal with. But Scotty was always prepared and up to the task and he might even deserve credit for being the largest reason President Bush hasnâ€™t yet been cencored, impeached, or worse….
….Iâ€™m sure the spinners are already busy trying to come up with a way to portray this as a â€œpromotionâ€? for Karl Rove, but I think we all know itâ€™s not; the Presidentâ€™s trying to get this guy out of the way by having him concentrate upon elections that most people realize the Republicans will not be winning.
So, how could Bush make the White House spokesman assignment even worse than he made it with Ari Fleischer and McClellan? Well, why not make the connection between the White House and Fox News complete? Or possibly by bringing aboard former Coalition Provisional Authority spinmeister Dan Senor, who showed his chops for lying in the midst of chaos already. The problem with Senor is that his appointment would cause problems for his new bride at NBC, plus Senor gives the impression that he at least sometimes cares about the truth, which is not an impediment for Fox’s Snow, who can spin and lie with the best of them, all while being sunny, unlike Scottie.
The bigger news to most people will be the announcement that Karl Rove will leave the policy portfolio behind and work exclusively on the upcoming elections. That hardly qualifies as a surprise, either. Rove formally took on policy only after the 2004 elections gave George Bush the last electoral victory of his political career. Most of us expected Rove to informally drop the policy-wonk persona once the 2006 primaries came close. This only makes that reassignment official. The GOP needs a fully-engaged Karl Rove in the election, especially since the polling has looked somewhat grim for the Republicans, at least nationally. With the party squabbling and a testy debate about to break out about the direction of the party, Rove can lend his formidable talents to bringing political unity among the factions.
Neither announcement really indicates much change at all. McClellan’s departure will put a visible facade on Bolten’s mandate, and the new press secretary could create some fresh buzz for the White House. For changes of more significance, we will have to wait a little longer.
—Tania’s Journal: “Scott McClellan resigned and Ace got kicked off American Idol? Clearly the universe has decided to love me today.”
There will be a new Kool Aid stand opening at the White House. Little Scott McClellan is out of here. And Rove is going to concentrate on politics, not policy, which he confused with politics. Some things change and some not at all.
HECKUVA JOB, SCOTTIE. One thing you can say in George Bush’s favor is that he’s exactly the sort of boss you’d like to use as a reference when you look for your next job. Scott McClellan’s tenure as White House press secretary has been objectively disastrous — a giant step down from the psychopathically smooth lying of Ari Fleischer who’s turned the briefing room into a perennial train wreck. Liberals and conservatives really ought to be able to agree on this — there’s no policy implications whatsoever.