Karl Rove is Out
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Just ahead: a summer camp for atheists. It's our weekly Faith Matters conversation - no irony intended there.
But first: Karl Rove, chief political strategist and arguably the man most responsible for President George W. Bush's two terms in the White House, announces resignation from that post. Rove delivered an emotional farewell speech.
Mr. KARL ROVE (Deputy Chief of Staff, Bush Administration): Mr. President, the world has turned many times since our journey began. We've been at this a long time. It's over 14 years ago that you began your run for governor, and over 10 years ago that we started thinking and planning about a possible run for the presidency. And it's been a exhilarating and eventful time.
MARTIN: Rove will step down effective August 31st. He says he wants to spend more time with his family.
Joining us to talk about Rove, his legacy and the Bush administration without him is a former senior official who had top communications positions in both Bush administrations - Anna Perez.
Anna, it's great to talk to you.
Ms. ANNA PEREZ (Communications Executive; Former Deputy Assistant, President George H.W. Bush): Hi, Michel. Howa are you?
MARTIN: I'm very well. Now, Anna, you were press secretary to First Lady Barbara Bush in the first Bush administration. You were the former deputy assistant to the president and counselor to the National Security Adviser for Communications in the second Bush administration. How did you meet Karl Rove?
Ms. PEREZ: I met Karl Rove in the second Bush administration. He was - except for the chief of staff and the national security adviser, he was probably the number one White House staffer.
MARTIN: What exactly was Karl Rove good at - from an internal perspective?
Ms. PEREZ: Strategy. Strategy. The man can see around corners. I love it when they call him Bush's brain. That's right. He was Bush's brain. He handed his brain to George Bush 13 years ago. And George Bush owned it, owned his brain for all that time. And…
MARTIN: Well, that wasn't meant as a…
Ms. PEREZ: …that was a good thing.
MARTIN: …that wasn't meant as a flattering term, apparently. That was a term spun by the critics.
Ms. PEREZ: Well, I know. But that's the way I look at it. People have always underestimated George Bush, President Bush. They've always underestimated him. I think that's one of the reasons why the Democrats took such a shellacking in 2004. But there's no question that Karl Rove will go down in history as one of the best political operatives this country's ever seen.
MARTIN: Well, you talked about the shellacking the Democrats took in 2004. Let's talk about 2006, when the losses…
Ms. PEREZ: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: I mean, same Karl Rove. What happened when the Republicans lost both Houses of Congress? By a whisker, but they did? What happened?
Ms. PEREZ: Well, it was - first of all, it was by a whisker. And when you consider how thin the margin was and supposedly how many people oppose the war in Iraq, you would think that they would have won by a lot bigger margin. I think that the country was ready for change. I think that Karl knew this. We lost. We definitely took our lumps, and I think it's because the country wanted a change. I think - I hope not - but I think you'll see that in 2008 as well.
MARTIN: What about the war in Iraq? Did Karl Rove have a role in that?
Ms. PEREZ: I was there. I was in the White House. I started a week before 9/11, and I left two and half years later. I did not, quite frankly, see it. He didn't attend principles meetings - which is a meeting of the National Security Council - without the president. I did not see his hand. It doesn't mean it wasn't there. I just didn't see it a lot. He was a lot more into domestic policy.
Now, later on in - when they started the White House Iraq Group, yes, he attended those meetings, but so did I, so did Secretary Rice, so did a half a dozen - eight other people.
MARTIN: Why do you think that Rove didn't step down after the losses in 2006?
Ms. PEREZ: Honestly, I don't know - and not because of the losses, but because those jobs are 24/7. And by 2006, he'd been doing it, the job itself, for six years - through 9/11, through Afghanistan, through the war in Iraq, through so much. Those jobs are so draining financially, personally. They're draining on the family. They really are. I remember when I took - I said to my family, I said, you know, this is a decision we have to make together, whether I take this job - whether it was in the first Bush administration or the second.
I've been in politics long enough to know just how draining and how much of a - how many demands they make on your life. So I was surprised that they all didn't go running for the exits given the time that they spent, the financial drain on your - if you have young children and you're working in the White House, you - at some point, you've got to start thinking about how you're going to pay for college.
MARTIN: It's that your way of saying that you actually believe him when he says he's leaving to spend more time with his family? Because, of course, as you know, in Washington whenever anybody says that, people immediately start chuckling.
Ms. PEREZ: Oh, no, I believe him. I believe him because he's been doing it for seven years. Those are dog years, honey.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PEREZ: We're talking - in dog years, that's - and they are dog years in - up in there. We're talking, what? 49 years? I think that's time enough.
MARTIN: Do you think that Karl is leaving the White House after two major trials, even though he was not sort of personally damaged by either of them? There was the Valerie Plame spy case. He was accused, at least, by Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, of leaking her name. That allegation was never substantiated - that he had a role in that.
And, of course, he's also been accused by some Democrats of playing a role in the firing of the - of U.S. attorneys in a manner that many people consider inappropriate or overly political. Do you think that those are aspects of his tenure that people will remember, or are there other things that you think will supersede? And, obviously, one's perception of this is going to depend in part on who one is - I mean, what side of the political alley you're on and so forth, but…
Ms. PEREZ: First of all, I don't think very many people are going to remember Karl Rove. They won't. He's a political operative. He has almost always operated behind the scenes. One of the best thing about Karl leaving is I can't wait to see him on television, because he's funny and he's smart and he's sharp and he will shake things up. He will shake up the political discourse if he decides to go that route. In much the same way, can anybody - who beside political junkies or political insiders can remember Lyndon Johnson's alter ego or John F. Kennedy's? We don't remember these people. We - what we remember is the president. What we remember, maybe, is the secretary of state, but we don't remember staff.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about the - we talked about the war in Iraq earlier, and you had said that you didn't see Karl Rove's involvement with, sort of, policy. But I wanted to talk to you about the domestic policies that he was involved in, had it not been for the war in Iraq - hard to remember those days - but that the president's signature issue was always education, and he was known for two things. He's known for No Child Left Behind and for this - the phrase that he used during his first campaign, the soft bigotry of low expectations. He's also known, when he first came on the national political scene, for a stance on immigration that was decidedly different from the stance taken by another well-known Republican official who has had a much harder line on immigration than he did - the president is sort of known as a centrist on these issues. And I wondered what role Karl Rove may have had in the president's taking on those issues - which are a particular concern to minorities, I would say.
Ms. PEREZ: I would say his hand was probably - and his influence - was probably pretty high. He's smart. He's - he was very, very committed to broadening the base of the Republican Party - very committed to that. And you could tell by the people he had on his staff: Ken Mehlman. There were - then there were others in the White House very committed to that. So I would say, yeah, his influence was high on those.
MARTIN: Well - and that commitment to broadening the base didn't come at the expense of kind of his reputation as a player of hardball politics. One of the things that, I think, Rove is known for in the 2004 victory was appealing to African-American evangelicals for the first time in a serious way on the national stage. And I'm just wondering if you have any idea where that point of view in broadening the party came from.
Ms. PEREZ: Well, I - A, I think it comes from his heart. But B, it's a very, very smart thing to do. My husband's sister has not worn a pair of pants in decades. She is a member of the Church of God in Christ, one of the fastest growing denominations - black or white - in the country. She's very conservative socially. In fact, the first Republican she ever voted for was George Bush in the 2004 election.
So I think that was very, very smart of Karl Rove to go after that particular demographic. It fit perfectly in the - in with the administration's policies and what they - their goals, what they wanted to do. I think he would have been dumb not to do it.
MARTIN: He says he's going to write a book.
Ms. PEREZ: Hm. Good luck.
MARTIN: Do you want to be in it?
Ms. PEREZ: I probably won't be, and that's fine. In all the books that come out, I look in the index…
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You do the Washington thing, look in the index first.
Ms. PEREZ: I do the Washington thing. Out here in the idyllic Mill Valley, I do the Washington thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Okay. Anna Perez, communications executive, a former deputy assistant to the president and counsel to the national security adviser in the Bush administration. She joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Anna, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. PEREZ: Thank you, Michel. I was happy to do it.