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Bush weighs 'inevitable' Cabinet changes

At the Camp David retreat Friday for a long weekend after the grueling election campaign, President Bush was already considering changes in his Cabinet and among senior White House staff.
President Bush meets with his Cabinet at the White House on Thursday.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/ Source: news services

Resting at the Camp David retreat Friday for a long weekend after the grueling election campaign, President Bush was already considering changes in his Cabinet and among senior White House staff.

Amid indications that Attorney General John Ashcroft was likely to resign soon for health reasons, the president on Thursday said some changes were "inevitable" given the "burnout" factor.

At a , Bush said he would do some thinking at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington.

“In the Cabinet, there will be some changes. I don’t know who they will be. It’s inevitable there will be changes. It happens in every administration,” he said.

Senior aides to Ashcroft, 62, said Thursday that he was likely to leave before the start of Bush’s second term on Jan. 20.

Ashcroft, who has been a lightning rod for criticism by Democrats and civil liberties activists, is described as exhausted from leading the Justice Department in fighting the domestic war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Stress was a factor in health problems earlier this year that resulted in removal of Ashcroft’s gallbladder.

Aides who spoke only on condition of anonymity said there was a small chance that Ashcroft would stay on, at least for a short time, if Bush asked him.

But another source close to Ashcroft said he had made no decision on what to do if Bush asked him to stay on. “I understand that he’s energized by the election results,” the source said.

If Ashcroft departs, a former deputy, Larry Thompson, would be a likely successor, Republican officials said.

Rumsfeld's role
Many Republicans think Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell will also leave — if not immediately, then after a reasonable interval.

Lawrence Di Rita, chief spokesman for the Defense Department, said there were priorities remaining that Rumsfeld wanted to meet, not only in Iraq but also in continuing to reshape the military from its Cold War past into a more agile 21st-century force.

Bush stayed with Rumsfeld, 72, amid calls in the spring by some Democrats for his firing after revelations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Rumsfeld’s deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, would be considered a candidate to replace Rumsfeld, but as a leading voice for the Iraq war over weapons of mass destruction that were never found, he would have a difficult time winning Senate confirmation.

Aides Wolfowitz say he is likely to leave his job, and that he might be interested in taking national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s place if she leaves. Other contenders for the top Pentagon job are Sen. John Warner, R-Va.; Rice; and John Lehman, a former Navy secretary and a Republican member of the independent Sept. 11 Commission.

Shift at State?
about his future, skirting questions about the timing of his widely expected departure after four rough-and-tumble years as America’s chief diplomat.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell, in the morning staff meeting, talked about “a very active upcoming agenda of foreign policy that he and the president have planned and that it will be our duty, along with the secretary, to implement.”

Boucher also outlined Powell’s plans for several trips abroad over the next few weeks and said the department’s agenda included the Iraqi and Afghan elections in January and the spring respectively.

In dozens of interviews, Powell, who has been dubbed the dove among hawks in the Bush administration, dismissed questions about his plans by saying with a smile, “I serve at the pleasure of the president.”

Powell has long been considered to be a one-term secretary of state, irrespective of whether Bush was re-elected. Speculation has been rife for months about possible successors in a second Bush term. Among those mentioned are: Rice; U.N. Ambassador John Danforth; Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from Georgia who once headed the Armed Services Committee; and John Bolton, undersecretary of state.

Rice is a wild card. In addition to moving to the State Department, she could stay in her job, move to the Defense Department or head back home to California.

Many administration officials believe that if Bush were to ask his close confidante to stay on in some top capacity, she would do so. But Rice, weary of the long hours, has often talked of going back to Stanford University.

Her low-key deputy, Stephen Hadley, is considered a possible successor.

Domestic security, health changes likely
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has told colleagues he’ll probably leave after the election because of his personal finances and job stresses.

For now, though, a Ridge aide said the secretary is focused on his job, especially going into the holiday season, which has been a high threat period. Ridge has a full schedule of homeland security events planned through at least the end of the year, the aide said.

If he steps down, White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend is a possible successor, as are Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security Department undersecretary for border and transportation security, and Thomas Kean, chairman of the Sept. 11 Commission. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s name also has been floated as a possible Ridge replacement.

At the Health and Human Services Department, Secretary Tommy Thompson has said he’ll take a break from government service after four years on the job and 14 as Wisconsin governor.

The odds-on favorite to replace Thompson is Medicare chief Mark McClellan, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

Treasury, Commerce, Education changes?
Treasury Secretary John Snow will probably remain on board. A senior administration official said it’s possible that Commerce Secretary Donald Evans would move over to the Treasury job now held by Snow.

One name being mentioned for Evans’ job at Commerce, should it come open, is Mercer Reynolds, national finance chairman for the Bush campaign, who raised more than $260 million to get him re-elected.

If Bush wants a change at the Education Department, he might pick domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings, who helped shape his school agenda when he was Texas governor.

The only Democrat in Bush’s Cabinet, Transportation Secretary Mineta, 72, has endured serious health problems, so Bush may look to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham or Marion Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao has expressed an interest in being transportation secretary.

It’s unclear whether the newly confirmed CIA Director Porter Goss would stay at the spy agency in a second term or be given the more powerful position of national intelligence director — if Congress creates it. Also expected to be in the mix for the new umbrella job: Townsend and Cofer Black, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator.

Competitors at USDA
At the Agriculture Department, Secretary Ann Veneman’s spokeswoman said that the president would decide in coming weeks whether to retain her.

Veneman, a lawyer from California, expressed interest months ago in staying at the Agriculture Department for a second term. However, farm trade negotiator Allen Johnson of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office was pursuing the job, according to agribusiness sources. White House agriculture adviser Chuck Conner also was talking about the job.

Veneman, the first woman to lead the Agriculture Department, won praise for her deft handling of the mad cow crisis last winter. Nonetheless, there was speculation among farm groups of a turnover at the Agriculture Department.

Another possibility is Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, who was defeated after 13 terms in the House.