WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday named Tony Snow, a conservative pundit who has nonetheless been critical of the administration, as his press secretary — the latest move in Bush’s effort to remake his troubled White House.
“He sometimes has disagreed with me,” Bush said of Snow’s comments in print and television. Bush said he had asked Snow about those comments, and got this response from Snow: “You should have heard what I said about the other guy.”
Snow, 50, replaces Scott McClellan, who stepped down in a White House personnel shuffle intended to re-energize Bush’s presidency, bring in new faces and lift the president’s record-low approval ratings. McClellan had served as Bush’s chief spokesman — the most prominent public figure in the White House after Bush — for nearly three years.
Snow, a Fox News commentator and speech-writer in the White House under Bush’s father, has written and spoken frequently about the current president — not always in a complimentary way. While Snow is an experienced Washington hand, he is an outsider when it comes to Bush’s tight core of advisers.
Snow thanked Bush for the job and told reporters: “Believe it or not, I want to work with you.”
Bush also addressed reporters directly, joking that “Tony already knows most of you and he’s agreed to take the job anyway.”
McClellan said Snow planned to start the week of May 8 but would not begin conducting the daily press briefings for several days. McClellan said he had not decided on departure date yet, but would have some overlap with Snow.
‘Bush ... an embarrassment’
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, circulated unflattering observations by Snow about Bush.
“His (Bush’s) wavering conservatism has become an active concern among Republicans, who wish he would stop cowering under the bed and start fighting back against the likes of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Wilson,” Snow wrote last November after Republicans failed to win the governor’s race in Virginia. “The newly passive George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.”
Last month, Snow wrote that Bush and the Republican Congress had “lost control of the federal budget and cannot resist the temptation to stop raiding the public fisc. (treasury)”
Snow, in an Associated Press interview on Tuesday, said: “It’s public record. I’ve written some critical stuff. When you’re a columnist, you’re going to criticize and you’re going to praise.”
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White House take
Unofficially, the White House tried to put the best face on Snow’s criticism, suggesting it showed that the administration listens to different voices and noting that Snow’s job called for him to be opinionated.
One factor in Snow’s decision was that he had his colon removed last year and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer. He had a CAT scan last week and delayed a decision while he consulted with his doctors.
Snow is the host of the “Tony Snow Show” on Fox News Radio and “Weekend Live with Tony Snow on the Fox News Channel.
He served in the administration of President George H.W. Bush as White House speechwriting director and later as a deputy assistant to the president for media affairs.
Fleischer weighs in
Bush’s first press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said Snow and other staff changes offer the chance to show Americans that ”something new may come from the White House” and that Bush deserves a second look.
“Tony is now going to be the voice of that story. That can help the president. But ultimately it still comes down to two huge issues. One, is the president receiving credit for the boom in the economy, and two, increased calm in Iraq,” he said.
“Tony can surely help with the first. The second will be driven by events on the ground,” Fleischer said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.