- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In just three days after assuming the job, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten has wielded an iron fist as he overhauls the West Wing — stripping power from President Bush’s top adviser, pressuring the president’s handpicked spokesman to resign and delivering an ultimatum to all staffers: If you plan to leave this year, leave now.

After repeated administration missteps in recent months that have led to plummeting poll numbers for the president and a sour relationship on Capitol Hill — where Republican lawmakers are still smarting over a failed immigration bill and the Dubai ports debacle — Mr. Bolten has made clear that he rules the roost, a demand he made of Mr. Bush before he took the post.

“The changes are clearly part of Josh Bolten’s effort to reinvent the White House, and the press office,” said one former senior Bush official who asked not to be named. “Some people have overstayed their welcome. Josh is not going to keep on with the same-old, same-old. He wants to make changes, make them fast and move forward.”

The former aide added that the departure of spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday “is not a big surprise, and there are going to be plenty more resignations in the coming days.”

There is now, the aide said, a palpable apprehension within the offices of the West Wing, more so after Mr. Bolten told senior staff that if they plan to leave before the November elections, they should leave now.

“That was clearly throwing down a marker to staffers, and was also a graceful way to say that you might want to tender your resignation before I call you into my office to demand it,” the aide said.

With nearly three years left in office, Mr. Bush still has a full agenda and has pledged to work until the end of his term to push it through Congress. But the administration’s relationship with lawmakers has withered, and even Republicans are now openly critical of the poor communication.

The president’s decision to allow an Arab company to run operations at several U.S. ports, followed by a veto threat if the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t fall in line, pushed relations to the breaking point. At the same time, complaints emerged that power was held too tightly by just a few top aides, including Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and that the White House Legislative Affairs Office had been neutered, forced to defer to decision-makers in the West Wing.

But with the departure of Andrew H. Card Jr. as chief of staff, Mr. Bolten has opened an offensive to repair relations with lawmakers, calling leaders nearly daily to seek input and provide updates.

Mr. Bolten also pulled powers away from Mr. Rove, handing them off to his own former top aide, Joel Kaplan, whom he named yesterday as deputy chief of staff in charge of policy. Mr. Rove had taken over new policy duties after Mr. Bush won re-election, but the move yesterday means he will return to his forte: handling politics in the run-up to congressional elections.

“That move shows just how savvy Bolten is, as well as his leadership ability,” one White House insider said. “And there’ll be more moves like this — guaranteed.”

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