Bush changes: Rove shifts, press chief quits

White House deputy chief of staff Rove speaks at Republican Party meeting in Washington
White House Deputy Chief of Staff and presidential advisor Karl Rove gestures to hush the crowd as he prepares to speak during the Republican National Committee 2006. Jason Reed / Reuters file
/ Source: NBC News and news services

A Bush administration shake-up continued Wednesday, with White House press secretary Scott McClellan announcing his resignation and adviser Karl Rove shedding some duties.

Rove is giving up oversight of policy development to focus more on politics with the approach of the fall midterm elections.

An administration source told NBC that the shift was “an acknowledgement of the tough political climate.”

Rove “is the best pitcher in the league in terms of politics and strategy,” the source added, so “it’s obvious” he should focus on the mid-term elections.

He will still be an “important voice on policy” and will provide “big-picture strategic planning,” officials told NBC on Wednesday.

Just over a year ago, Rove was promoted to deputy chief of staff in charge of most White House policy coordination. That new portfolio came on top of his title as senior adviser and role of chief policy aide to Bush.

But now, the job of deputy chief of staff for policy is being given to Joel Kaplan, the deputy budget director.

The move signals a broad effort to rearrange and reinvigorate Bush’s staff by new chief of staff Joshua Bolten. Bolten moved into his position last week; Kaplan was his No. 2 person at the Office of Management and Budget.

“Joel Kaplan is a man of great talent, intellect and experience who possesses a deep knowledge of policy and budget processes,” Bush said in a written statement.

At least for the time being, the promotion of Kaplan would leave Bush with three deputy chiefs of staff: Rove, Kaplan and Joe Hagin, who oversees administrative matters, intelligence and other national security issues.

According to White House officials, Bolten, who has longstanding personal and professional ties with Kaplan, recommended Kaplan for the position because of his vast knowledge of government councils, cabinets and agencies, NBC News reported.

The White House officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly, also said Kaplan has played a “critical role while at the Office of Management and Budget with Congress.” His ability to smooth things over on Capitol Hill made him an ideal candidate for deputy chief of staff for policy, they added, according to NBC.

McClellan: ‘I have given it my all’
Appearing with Bush on the South Lawn, McClellan, who has parried especially fiercely with reporters on Iraq and on intelligence issues, told Bush: “I have given it my all sir and I have given you my all sir, and I will continue to do so as we transition to a new press secretary.”

Bush said McClellan had “a challenging assignment.”

“I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity,” the president said. “It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.”

McClellan is expected to remain in his job until a successor is named. Among those under consideration are Tony Snow, a former White House speechwriter under the first President Bush, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, according to Republican officials.

McClellan was named press secretary in June 2003, not long after the United States invaded Iraq and had first been a deputy to Ari Fleischer in the job — a White House position with daily public visibility rivaling virtually everyone there except the president.

After the announcement, Bush and McClellan walked across the lawn together and boarded Marine One, but a problem with the helicopter’s radio kept it grounded. The president and his staff were forced to take a motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where Bush boarded Air Force One for a flight to Alabama. McClellan and Rove rode in the president’s limousine to the military base.

No replacement yet
McClellan came back on the plane to the press cabin and shook hands all around. Someone said it was a sad moment, and McClellan replied, “It is sad on some level.” He said he would accompany Bush on a trip to California this weekend and remain on the job for a couple more weeks until a replacement is named.

He said he had been thinking seriously about leaving in the past few weeks since Andrew Card announced he was leaving as chief of staff.

“With a new chief of staff coming on board,” McClellan said, “it was a good time to make this decision. And three years would have been an awfully long time in this position.

“I’ve been at this for a long time and I didn’t need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all kept tempting me.”