White House press secretary Scott McClellan announced Wednesday morning that he is resigning from what President Bush termed his “challenging assignment.” The move is the latest in a shakeup of the Bush administration that has already brought about a new chief of staff.
McClellan, the often-embattled spokesman for the Bush White House who battled daily with the Washington press corps over everything from the Iraq war to the CIA leak and the wiretapping scandal, took the job in June 2003 shortly after the beginning of the Iraq war.
“I have given it my all sir and I have given you my all sir, and I will continue to do so as we transition to a new press secretary,” McClellan, 38, said in a hastily arranged announcement on the White House South Lawn.
“I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity,” the president said. “It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.”
New White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten gave a strong indication of forthcoming shakeups on Monday, telling senior aides, “If you’re thinking about leaving, now’s the time.” Ironically, it was McClellan who shared that comment with reporters, adding that Bolten said he wanted people with enough energy to be “charging ahead for the next two and one-half years.”
CNN reported that Republican sources had been telling the station for weeks that the White House communications staff was one of the areas targeted by Bolten as needing change.
Bolten, who replaced the departing Andrew Card, took over his new job on Saturday and announced his replacement in the White House Budget Office, former Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, on Tuesday. With Bush’s poll numbers in decline and surveys indicating that public opinion on everything from the failed Dubai ports deal to the Iraq war was continuing the negative slide, there had been a push for new blood in the White House and Bolten seems to have taken that call to heart.
In another shakeup, longtime Bush adviser Karl Rove is scaling back his responsibilities, according to The Washington Post. Rove was named a deputy chief of staff for policy after Bush’s second election, a job that came on top of his responsibilities as senior adviser and chief policy aide to Bush. He will give up oversight of policy development to spend more time focusing on politics in advance of the upcoming mid-term elections. He is expected to be replaced by Joel Kaplan, the current White House budget director.
CNN said it was unclear if the Rove move was a demotion or promotion for the man often called “Bush’s Brain,” who has been even more behind the scenes than usual over the past year, as his name has been repeatedly linked to the flap over the leaking of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to the press. Rove has not been directly implicated or charged in the ongoing grand jury investigation.
One position that seems secure, for now, is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who got a strong vote of confidence from the president on Tuesday, amid calls from six retired military generals for the secretary’s ouster. In an unusually public statement about a member of his staff, Bush said Rumsfeld is doing a “fine job” and that he strongly supports him.