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Bush concentrates power veteran advisors { May 29 2003 }

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Bush Fills Key Slots With Young Loyalists

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2003; Page A01

President Bush is quietly retooling the White House staff for his reelection campaign by promoting a group of young loyalists to key positions, further concentrating power with the handful of veteran advisers closest to him.

Bush's inner circle, many with ties going back to his Texas days, has stayed largely in place. But there has been substantial turnover in the past few months in the next tier, including the nomination last week of deputy chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten as budget director. Bolten is trusted by Bush but is largely unknown outside the White House.

Similar changes have been made in the legislative affairs, personnel and vice president's offices, and will be made soon in the press office. Bush's reelection campaign will be staffed by young aides who take their cues from officials in the West Wing, according to people planning the campaign.

"He keeps promoting people up from the farm club to jobs that once were reserved for giants," said Paul C. Light, a specialist in bureaucracy who is a New York University professor of public service. "That means a relatively green team, but one that will take direction from the coach. It could be interpreted as a sign of extraordinary hubris."

Aides said Bush's preference for promoting from within gives him a hardworking, committed team beholden only to him, without their own agendas. But other people close to Bush used the term "echo chamber" as they described their worry that a culture so driven by "loyalty for loyalty's sake" could produce a White House that was deaf to brewing political or governing crises.

The moves have increased the authority of a few favored White House aides, including senior adviser Karl Rove, as less experienced officials assume the new jobs, current and former administration officials said. "These new folks are going to pull their punches at first," said a veteran of White House meetings. "They don't have the gravitas."

White House officials said they agree that is a potential result, but said it was not intentional. A senior administration official involved in hiring said there was "no design to consolidate decision making" and that aides cast a wide net in looking for staff. But the official said replacements were frequently found inside because of their ability to interact with the president and proven performance under pressure. The promotions also help with morale down to the lower levels, the official said.

Press secretary Ari Fleischer said the advice Bush gets is "blunt and realistic." He added, "People don't make it into the inner circle if they're sycophants."

Several administration officials said Rove, 52, now faces even fewer internal checks on his politically aggressive style. White House communications director Dan Bartlett, a former employee of Rove, has also accumulated power with each departure, according to colleagues. Bartlett, 31, is so admired by some Republicans for his political savvy that some see him as a future Texas governor. "Some of these people will grow into their jobs, and some of them won't," an outside White House adviser said. "Where they don't, Karl and Dan's influence will swell."

Bolten's nomination last week was one signal of Bush's approach. Bolten will replace Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., a favorite of GOP conservatives who is returning to Indiana to run for governor. A colleague said Bolten, policy director of Bush's first campaign, has moderate instincts but "never makes an issue of it," having devoted himself to the Bush agenda.

By contrast, President Bill Clinton's second budget director was Alice M. Rivlin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who was well-known on Capitol Hill.

One of the leading prospects to succeed Bolten is another insider, Jay Lefkowitz, a domestic policy expert who was director of Cabinet affairs in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Lefkowitz has steadily risen as he gained favor with the president, especially after he helped steer Bush through a politically perilous decision to allow federal funding for research on stem cells from a limited number of human embryos.

In January, Bush appointed Dina Habib Powell, 29, a former Republican National Committee lobbyist and Capitol Hill aide, as director of presidential personnel. She succeeded Clay Johnson III, who was Bush's executive assistant in the Texas governor's office and has been his close friend for 40 years, since their prep school days at Phillips Academy at Andover, Mass. Johnson was nominated to be deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget and awaits confirmation.

Fleischer, who plans to leave for the private sector in July, had the standing and personality to fight with Bush's closest aides over access for himself and the media. He often lost, but sometimes he won. He is likely to be replaced by his deputy, Scott McClellan, who worked for Bush in the Texas governor's office and lacks Fleischer's tartness. Colleagues say Bush's comfort with McClellan may enhance his stature.

Bush's first Capitol Hill lobbyist, Nicholas E. Calio, who smoked cigars with lawmakers, was replaced in December by David W. Hobbs, a quiet expert on legislative procedure.

Mary Matalin, who was counselor to Vice President Cheney, left the government in January but remains a close adviser. Her public affairs responsibilities were assumed by Catherine J. Martin, 34.

The campaign manager is Kenneth Mehlman, 36, who was close to Rove as White House director of political affairs. The White House announced Friday that Mehlman will be succeeded by his deputy, Matt Schlapp, 35. Like Mehlman, Schlapp worked on the staff of Bush's last campaign.

The communications director for the reelection campaign is slated to be Nicolle Devenish, 31, who as White House director of media affairs has the unheralded but politically sensitive job of managing relations with local news organizations and national radio shows.

Advisers to Bush pointed out that he had a promote-from-within policy when he was Texas governor and took a similar approach in his first race, when he shunned advice from most Washington-based Republicans and instead relied on the ideas bubbling out of his campaign headquarters in Austin.

Another reason for the pattern, they said, is that Rove, Cheney, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice have such vast and varied experience that there is little room -- or need -- for other big names.

People close to Bush said his aides have taken steps to make sure they are not too insulated from the outside political world. Rove makes constant calls to contacts who are allied with specific constituencies. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, hold "idea dinners" at the vice president's residence where international experts conduct graduate school-style seminars. Bartlett recently held a brainstorming session with top political and corporate communications veterans.

A lobbyist said the White House responds to the danger of isolation "not by hiring people from the outside, but by having a vast network on the outside and being very sensitive to what they're saying."

Republican sources said Ed Gillespie, 41, a communications strategist in Bush's last campaign, will be named soon as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Gillespie will be a full-time chairman but will not have to sever ties to his lobbying business. Rove pushed for Gillespie, keeping one more job in the family.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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