White House chief of staff Andrew Card will remain in the job and is expected to play a key role in shaping President Bush’s Cabinet for a second term, the White House said Monday.
“Andy Card was honored to accept” when Bush asked him to stay on, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “He serves at the pleasure of the president, just like the rest of us.”
Bush has told aides that he wants a smooth transition, and officials said they expected that any major personnel changes would be made gradually, ensuring a measure of stability as Bush heads into his second and final term. But there is no stopping the speculation and the handicapping.
Justice Department sources have said privately for weeks that Attorney General John Ashcroft was not likely to continue in a second term. But Justice Department officials now say he may be having second thoughts, having been “energized” by last week’s election.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, two leading administration faces in the Iraq war, have also been mentioned as likely to leave.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who last week urged journalists against repeatedly asking whether Powell would leave, used undiplomatic language Monday to dismiss a question about a report in May that Powell was tired.
“That’s a pile of crap, and it was a pile of crap” in May, the normally unflappable Boucher told reporters at a news conference.
Rumsfeld also brushed aside a question about whether he would remain in the Cabinet.
“I’ve met with him [Bush] two or three times on totally different subjects since the election, but that’s not a subject that’s come up,” Rumsfeld told reporters Monday. “And needless to say, either one of us would discuss it with the other before discussing it with you.”
Rumsfeld said “there’s a good deal more to be done” in his quest to reshape the U.S. military.
Aides have said they expect Rumsfeld to remain in the job for the start of Bush’s new term, although whether he aims to stay for the full four years is unclear.
McClellan said other personnel “announcements will be made in due course.” Officials overseeing the process have been “tasked with making sure that we do this in a way that is smooth as we enter a second term,” he added.
“It’s been a natural time for when you look at ways to build your team for the second term, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing,” McClellan said.
Over the weekend, officials announced that Robert Blackwill, the administration’s lead official on Iraq policy, would leave, taking him out of the running as a possible successor to Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who has indicated that she also wants to leave her job.
That could clear the way for Rice’s low-key deputy, Stephen Hadley, to take over as national security adviser if Rice decides to move to the Defense or State departments or return to California.
In addition to existing Cabinet positions, officials said the White House was looking at possible candidates for a new role as national intelligence director. Congress has yet to approve the new intelligence position, which was proposed by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Bush considers his options
Promising to spend the political capital he earned on a very ambitious agenda, Bush took Card and Rice with him to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., to talk strategy over the weekend.
Besides personnel matters, there is much to consider:
Who will be in the Cabinet? How will Bush deal with the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and the prospect that Iran will become a nuclear power? Will the insurgency in Iraq be quelled?
Domestically, there is the question of how to push for tax, medical liability and Social Security reforms. And then there is the stalled Middle East peace effort.
Monday marked the beginning of Bush’s first full week at the White House since his re-election, and he was still being congratulated.
Bush received calls from world leaders and dropped in on senior staff to thank them for their hard work, McClellan said.
The public schedule picks up Thursday when he meets with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his steadfast ally in Iraq.
Bush is under pressure from U.S. allies in Europe to play a more aggressive role in reviving the Middle East peace process. The election ballots were still being counted when Blair declared that the Middle East conflict was the most important political challenge in the world today.
There is little the Bush administration can do right away as long as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat continues his battle with a possible terminal illness. However, down the road — especially if Arafat’s eventual successor is able to temper violence and negotiate with Israel — the administration could play a role in breaking the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.
Although White House aides have said they see a new opening for Middle East peace in Bush’s second term, the president did not fully embrace Blair’s assessment. “I agree with him that the Middle East peace is a very important part of a peaceful world,” he said last week.