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White House shake-up: Chief of staff resigns

White House chief of staff Andy Card is resigning, President Bush said Tuesday, and is being replaced by budget director Josh Bolten.
/ Source: The Associated Press

White House chief of staff Andy Card has resigned and will be replaced by budget director Joshua Bolten, President Bush announced Tuesday amid growing calls for a White House shakeup and Republican concern about Bush’s tumbling poll ratings.

Though there was no immediate indication of other changes afoot, the White House did not close the door on a broader staff reorganization. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bolten will have the authority to make personnel shifts if he deems them necessary, and he declined to say whether top aides, such as the two current deputy chiefs of staff, Joe Hagin and Karl Rove, would remain in place.

"All of us serve at the pleasure of the president," McClellan said. "It's premature to talk about any future decisions that may or may not be made."

Bush announced the changes in a nationally broadcast appearance in the Oval Office.

“I have relied on Andy’s wise counsel, his calm in crisis, his absolute integrity and his tireless commitment to public service,” Bush said. “The next three years will demand much of those who serve our country. We have a global war to fight and win.”

Card, 58, stood stoically with his hands by his sides as Bush lauded his years of service through the Sept. 11 attacks, war and legislative and economic challenges. Gripping the podium, Card said in his farewell: “You’re a good man, Mr. President.” Card’s eyes were watery. Card said he looks forward to just being Bush’s friend. Bush then gave him five quick slaps on the back and the two walked out of the Oval Office together.

The president called Bolten, 51, a man with broad experience, both on Wall Street and in Washington, including the last three years as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Combating sliding approval ratings
Alarmed by Bush’s declining approval ratings and unhappiness about the war in Iraq, Republicans have been urging the president to bring in new advisers with fresh ideas and energy. Bolten has been with Bush since his first campaign for the White House. There was no immediate indication of other changes afoot.

“The good news is the administration has finally realized it needs to change its ways, but the problems go far deeper than one staffer,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “Simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic by replacing Andy Card with Josh Bolten without a dramatic change in policy will not right this ship.”

Bush gathered with members of his Cabinet in the Rose Garden at mid-morning after discussions about the war on terror. He ignored shouted questions from reporters about why he made the staff changes. Bush said he would deliver a speech on Wednesday about Iraq.

“We had a chance to honor two members of my Cabinet who won’t be with us much longer — Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, Chief of Staff Andy Card,” Bush said. “These two folks have served our country with distinction and honor. I’m proud to work side-by-side with them, and I’m proud to call them friend.”

Surprise announcement
Just Monday night, Card had given what participants described as a stirring speech to the Butler County Republican Party in Ohio.

“When I heard this morning, I said ’What?”’ said Scott Owens, executive director of the party. Owens said that Card gave no indication of his imminent resignation announcement.

To the public, Card may be best known as the aide who calmly walked into a Florida school room and whispered into Bush’s ear that America was under attack on Sept. 11, 2001. He was known for keeping his cool under pressure. When Bush’s father, then President George H.W. Bush, got sick at a banquet in Tokyo, aides and security officials ran toward the president. Card ran in the opposite direction, out the door to make sure the motorcade was ready to rush Bush away.

“Josh is a creative policy thinker,” Bush said. “He is an expert on the budget and our economy. He is a man of candor and humor and directness. No person is better prepared for this important position.”

“I’m deeply honored now by the opportunity to succeed Andy Card as White House chief of staff,” Bolten responded. “I said, ' Succeed Andy Card, not replace him,’ because he cannot be replaced.”

A call for fresh ideas
The move came as Bush is buffeted by increasing criticism of the drawn-out war in Iraq and as fellow Republicans have suggested pointedly that the president bring in new aides with fresh ideas and new energy.

Card came to Bush recently and suggested that he should step down from the job that he has held from the first day of Bush’s presidency, said an administration official earlier.

Bush decided during a weekend stay at Camp David, Md., to accept Card’s resignation and to name Bolten as his replacement, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to pre-empt the president.

Bolten is widely experienced in Washington, both on Capitol Hill as well as at the White House, where he was deputy chief of staff before becoming director of the Office of Management and Budget.

At a White House news conference last week, Bush was asked about rumors that a shake up in the White House staff was in the works. Bush said he was “satisfied with the people I’ve surrounded myself with.”

“I’ve got a staff of people that have, first of all, placed their country above their self-interests,” he said at the time. “These are good, hard-working, decent people. And we’ve dealt with a lot. We’ve dealt with a lot. We’ve dealt with war. We’ve dealt with recession. We’ve dealt with scandal. We’ve dealt with Katrina.

“I mean, they’ve had a lot on their plate. And I appreciate their performance and their hard work and they’ve got my confidence,” he said.

Bush said, “I’m satisfied with the people I’ve surrounded myself with. We’ve been a remarkably stable administration, and I think that’s good for the country.”

Departure of the 'chief'
A veteran of the administrations of both President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, Card was widely respected by his colleagues in the Bush White House. They fondly called him “chief.”

He usually arrived at work in the West Wing by around 5:30 a.m. and frequently did not leave until 9 or 10 p.m.

Card plans to stay on the job until April 14, when the switch with Bolten takes place.

Associates said that Card, who was secretary of Transportation and deputy chief of staff for the first President Bush, had wanted to establish himself as the longest serving White House chief of staff. Sherman Adams, who served as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chief of staff, still has that distinction.

A recent AP-Ipsos Poll found that Bush’s job approval has dipped to 37 percent, his lowest rating in that poll. Nearly 70 percent of people say the U.S. is on the wrong track, a six-point jump since February. Bush’s job approval among Republicans plummeted from 82 percent in February to 74 percent, a troubling sign for the White House in an election year.

Card did not immediately disclose his plans. His resignation immediately prompted questions about whether he would return to Massachusetts to run for governor or perhaps challenge Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who currently faces no major GOP challenge for re-election this fall, or Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., whom he helped defeat as the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and who faces re-election in 2008.

Card, a Holbrook native, served as the state representative from his hometown from 1975 to 1982.