Washington Waits for White House Staff Changes

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There is talk of more staff changes in the Bush administration. Last week, Andrew Card announced that he was stepping down as chief of staff. Steve Inskeep talks to White House Correspondent David Greene about the prospects for a shakeup of the president's staff.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We know that one of the closest aides to President Bush is leaving. We're still waiting to learn if more advisors will follow Chief of Staff Andrew Card to the door. Any changes could effect the direction of the president's final two and a half years in office. So, this morning, we brought in NPR White House Correspondent David Greene. David, good morning.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So, what are you hearing?

GREENE: Well, you ask people at the White House if there are going to be changes more and you get one big maybe. There's definitely—looking ahead towards Josh Bolten coming into his new job as chief of staff next week, as to whether that's going to bring some change--it's worth noting that there have been some changes already. The president's domestic policy advisor, Claude Allen, was charged with felony theft and had to step down recently. Obviously, Andy Card, the chief of staff, is gone. Josh Bolten, moving up to his new job, has vacated the job as budget director, so there are some moves already, some new faces, and we haven't even approached, what some are calling--what could be, a big shake-up.

INSKEEP: And, of course, all this is happening at a time when the president's approval ratings are low, when many of his policy initiatives are in trouble; when you look at the inner circle around the president, who's safe and who's in trouble?

GREENE: Well, it's hard to say, and a lot is going to depend on how far the president's loyalty goes. Take Karl Rove, his reputation was in question when his name kept popping up around the leak of Valerie Plain's name. She was the CIA operative. But he's a political asset and he's always been a political survivor; it's hard to imagine a White House without him. You look at someone like Dan Bartlett: he's counselor to the president, he helps craft the president's message and gives the president advice on his image. A lot of Republicans who are calling for someone—a gray beard, in Republican circles, a veteran to come in and kind of shake things up and bring a new direction. I'm sure looking at that job is one they would love to fill with someone else, but Dan Bartlett has been one of the president's longest serving advisors; it would be hard to see a White House without him, as well.

INSKEEP: What about other people who deal with the press?

GREENE: Well, Scott McClellan is the face that Americans, obviously, see every day. He's the White House press secretary. His reputation, too—he ran into some trouble around the Valerie Plain investigation. We got to a point last year where reporters were calling his credibility into question, asking him about comments he had made earlier suggesting that Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, were not involved in the leak of Valerie Plane's name. When, in fact, it appears that they may have been. We have some tape here to play; it's a conversation between ABC's Terry Moran and Scott McClellan: McClellan asking Terry Moran to go out and speak for him.

Mr. TERRY MORAN (White House Correspondent, ABC News): What I can't do is carry your water for you. And I'm wondering…

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (Spokesman, White House): I'm not asking you to.

Mr. MORAN: Yes, you are.

Mr. McCLELLAN: Just asking you to speak to who I am, and you know who I am.

GREENE: The last thing a White House wants, Steve, is a press secretary who reporters do not trust. But, again, McClellan is someone who has served the president for a long time and his family goes way back in Texas politics.

INSKEEP: Interesting, as you go through the list here, David, you mention different people who might be in trouble, but you mention that this is a very loyal president. And it's hard to see him letting people go.

GREENE: Indeed, it is. This is not a White House that has been without change. I mean, it's had the same level of shake-up and turn-around as other White Houses. But when you look at the people closest to the president, he keeps advisors, he keeps the closest people nearby him and it's hard to see him letting a lot of them go.

INSKEEP: Is there anything that's likely to change?

GREENE: One area where there's a lot of speculation is around the relationship between the White House and Congress. Candy Wolf is someone a lot of Americans don't know; she is the chief lobbyist for the president's agenda. She is known as effective, but not a heavyweight. And a lot of people are wondering whether the president needs to bring someone in to help push his agenda forward. You look at issues like immigration, social security; Mr. Bush has had some trouble.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent David Greene. Thanks for coming in this morning.

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

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