- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

President Bush's top liaison to Congress, Nicholas Calio, yesterday announced he will resign Jan. 10, the third senior administration official to step down this month in what is becoming a veritable White House exodus.

In less than two weeks, President Bush has lost his top two economic advisers, his lead congressional assistant and the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Vice President Richard B. Cheney lost his top public relations strategist. Other lower-level staffers have also announced plans to move on.

White House officials aren't worried, said Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

"The president has always had a strong team of capable, experienced individuals, and he will continue to have a strong core team to help him implement his agenda. The individuals he tends to surround himself with recognize this is not about any one person, this is about an agenda envisioned for the country," Mr. McClellan said.

While the days after a midterm election often bring a spike of resignations within the White House, the departures leave the administration without senior advisers during the beginning of a new legislative session and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

Political analysts agree the departures are not unusual after a midterm election. "Right after an election is a good time to leave, because it won't look like you're bailing out," said Stephen Hess, political analyst at the Brookings Institution.

But Mr. Bush has done better than his recent predecessors with the exception of his father in retaining senior-level personnel at the White House.

In a yet-to-be released book by Mr. Hess and Kathyrn Dunn Tenpas, the authors examined departures of "A-list" personnel top assistants at the White House and the National Security Council.

They found that 22 percent of the top "decision-makers" in the current Bush administration had changed jobs in the first 18 months of his administration, with 12 percent leaving government altogether. That number, though, has risen with the recent exodus.

President George Herbert Walker Bush did his son one better, though. Just 17 percent changed jobs, with only 7 percent leaving the federal government.

"The Bushes have done very well," Mr. Hess said. "And that does reflect efficiency by keeping people in the right jobs. Bush Two is about the most efficient I've seen at that since Eisenhower."

In contrast, President Reagan lost a whopping 51 percent of his top aides, with 28 percent departing for good. President Clinton had a 30 percent turnover, with 14 percent leaving government.

Mr. Calio is credited with pushing through Congress the president's education overhaul and $1.35 trillion tax cut. He said in a letter to Mr. Bush that his reasons for leaving his post as assistant to the president for legislative affairs "come simply to the two 'F's' Family and Financial."

He and his wife, Lydia, have one daughter in college and two more children soon to be facing college tuition. To take the White House job in January 2001, Mr. Calio gave up his highly lucrative partnership in O'Brien Calio, the lobbying firm he co-founded in 1993.

Mr. Bush said of Mr. Calio: "As my top staff representative on Capitol Hill, he has been at the center of major legislative victories, from landmark education reforms to historic tax relief for the American people."

Mary Matalin, top public-relations strategist to Mr. Cheney, made her resignation official last week. Joe Allbaugh said Monday he will step down in March as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey were earlier forced out in a housecleaning widely seen as an effort to limit the political damage to Mr. Bush of a sputtering economy.

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