Slate's Politics: McClellan to Leave, Rove Shifted

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan announced his resignation Wednesday morning, just as the Bush administration revealed that advisor Karl Rove will be moved out of a crucial role in shaping administration policy. Madeleine Brand speaks with Slate chief political analyst John Dickerson about the shake-up at the White House and whether more changes are coming.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Today's program opens with an exit. White House Spokesman Scott McClellan is leaving his post. Here's President Bush making the announcement today on the White House lawn.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: One of these days he and I are going to be rocking on chairs in Texas talking about the good old days, of his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, job well done.

Mr. SCOTT MCCLELLAN (Resigning White House Press Secretary): Thank you, sir.

BRAND: And that's not the only change at the White House today. Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove is giving up some of his duties. John Dickerson is here to tell us more about these personnel moves. John is chief political correspondent for the online magazine, Slate. And John, what is Karl Rove giving up?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Analyst, Slate): Well, he's giving up a few items on his to-do list. But this isn't that big of a change. Karl has always had influence in the White House because he has a strong policy understanding.

And he'll still, in making his political decisions, have a real role in the making of policy. So, he might lose some day-to-day tasks, but he's still going to be involved in policymaking.

BRAND: And I understand he'll also be focusing more on the upcoming political season.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, yes, of course. And that's his primary portfolio and would have been even in his old post. But again, politics is influenced and shaped by policy. And that's always why he's had such a key role in the policymaking, because politics are an important part of getting policy passed, and certainly a central part of the way this White House thinks about policies. So, he's still going to be in the mix in his more purely political role; he'll still be involved in policy.

BRAND: And where is he in the pecking order of policy power? Is he the most powerful person?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, it depends on what the topic is. And Josh Bolten, the new chief of staff, is a more policy-oriented person and certainly knows more than anybody else in the White House about the details of policy.

But again, policy in Washington, in purely detail form, is not really the way the city operates. Politics is always a part of any policy decision. And so Karl will be focused on that. But again--but he'll also, of course, be focused on turning out the vote and getting the Republican message to the people and those kinds of other more purely political elements.

BRAND: And let's talk about Scott McClellan. He's been the face of the Bush administration since just after the war began in Iraq. What kind of contribution did he make?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, Scott was more--had a better relationship with the press corps than his predecessor, Ari Fleischer. He was respected and well liked as a human being and a person.

He had a much tougher go of it. And what it made so particularly difficult for him is that, on the question of the CIA leak, he went to Scooter Libby and Karl Rove and asked them if they were involved. They said they were not. He dutifully reported that to the press. And it turned out not to be the case.

Once a press secretary is in the position of having to tell an untruth to the press, their credibility is ruined. Their job is made infinitely more difficult. And after that point, it was almost impossible for Scott to go forward. And that was really a disservice to him by his colleagues.

BRAND: And yes, he took quite a beating by the White House press corps for that and for some other topics. I'm wondering, you say he was respected; was he, in the end, respected by the White House press corps?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, he was, because everybody who covers the White House understands the difficulty of the press secretary's job, particularly when it's on-camera. The briefing room and the televised briefing is not the best arena for an exchange of information. And it's more of a theater and a show.

This administration has always been anxious to keep a kind of tight crimp on the information that gets out. And when you're the person who has to sort of take that role in the public, it's always going to be an ugly job and very hard to do.

And so, I think the respect that the press corps had for him was just sort of the--they gave him respect because they knew how difficult the job was to do for this particular president.

BRAND: Was he forced out or did he want to go?

Mr. DICKERSON: I think he was--he wanted to go. That job really chews you up and churns you out. I think the specific particular timing of this may have had to do with this general notion they want to get a shake-up going.

But I don't think he was forced out.

BRAND: Analysis and opinion from John Dickerson. He's chief political correspondent for the online magazine, Slate, and a regular contributor for us here at DAY TO DAY. Thank you, John.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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