Bolten Takes Over Amid Tough Times for White House

Joshua Bolten, currently director of the Office of Management and Budget, is replacing Andrew Card as the White House Chief of Staff. Bolten comes in at a tough time for Mr. Bush. The president's approval numbers are at an all-time low, largely because of Iraq. Also, the Republican Congress is increasingly complaining about White House policies in this mid-term election year.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush's next Chief of Staff today begins a crash course in running the White House. Joshua Bolten takes over next month for Andy Card, whose resignation was announced yesterday. And Bolten comes in at a tough time for Mr. Bush. The president's approval numbers are at an all time low, largely because of Iraq.

Also, the Republican Congress is increasingly complaining about White House policies in this midterm election year. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea has more.

DON GONYEA reporting:

In recent weeks, there has been growing anticipation of a possible shake up in the top ranks of the White House. But the consensus on Joshua Bolten, who was a Deputy Chief of Staff in President Bush's first term and the budget director since 2003, is that he represents no big shift in how the White House operates. Bolten is a Washington native, the son of CIA officer, and a history professor.

He went to the elite St. Albans Prep School, then to Princeton and Stanford Law. He's worked on Capitol Hill and on Wall Street. Around the White House, he's also known for his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Political consultant Ben Webber, a former Republican Congressman, sometimes mentioned as a potential successor to Card, says Bolten is someone who has demonstrated an ability to work with Congress.

Mr. BEN WEBBER (Political Consultant): I think the need to build a stronger relationship with the Congress, and to help Congressional Republicans restore their own self-confidence, which seems to have been damaged is a very, very important role if we're going to accomplish anything in the next few years.

GONYEA: But John Podesta, a former Chief of Staff to President Clinton, says picking Bolten runs counter to what the public is looking for. He cites polls that show overwhelming disagreement with the president on Iraq, and which, overall, show that a large majority of those questioned say the country is on the wrong track.

Mr. JOHN PODESTA (Former Chief Staff, President Bill Clinton): The task is daunting, quite frankly. He's got a split party on immigration, which is being debated this week. But hanging over all of that is a sense of real gloom about whether we can really successfully complete the mission in Iraq.

GONYEA: From Republicans in Congress, the official reaction to Bolten was positive. Michigan Congressman Fred Upton said it's a good thing that the president tapped his budget director. That's a job, Upton said, that inherently has a lot of interaction with Congress.

Representative FRED UPTON (Republican, Michigan): I know that the Republican House members had a retreat last month, and Josh Bolten was the only member of the cabinet who stayed the entire time. He sat and listened. He was at the meals. He participated in the discussions. I think he got a pretty good feel for where the very diverse members of the Republican Conference are.

GONYEA: But critics of the White House, including some Republicans, said bringing in a new Chief of Staff isn't enough, that the White House still needs major change--that someone of the stature of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld needs to be replaced to send a clear message of a change in direction. Others have suggested that political advisor Karl Rove should go. Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked yesterday whether Andy Card's departure is just the first.

Mr. SCOTT MCCLELLAN (Press Secretary): All of us here serve at the pleasure of the president. I think it's premature to talk about any future decisions that may or may not be made.

GONYEA: For the moment, the White House may think it's done enough to keep its critics at bay. If there are to other major moves, they will likely come after Bolten has had a little time to make his mark.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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