Wednesday, June 20, 2007

President Bush yesterday accepted the latest resignation by a top White House official in recent months, as budget director Rob Portman — a key player in negotiations with Congress on upcoming budget battles and the immigration debate — announced he will leave this summer to spend more time with his family.

“It’s difficult to leave such important and meaningful work, but it is now time to go home to Ohio. After 14 years of commuting to Washington, D.C., from Cincinnati every week, it’s now time to put my family first,” said Mr. Portman, who will leave his post as director of the Office of Management and Budget in early August.

“There’s no finer man in public service than Rob Portman,” Mr. Bush said. “I thank Rob for his service and good advice and most of all his friendship.”

Mr. Portman, 51, who has three children, will be a power broker in Ohio, a key state in next year’s presidential election, campaign spokesmen said. Mr. Portman said yesterday that he is considering running for governor of Ohio.

Mr. Bush named former Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, as Mr. Portman’s replacement. Mr. Nussle, 46, who chaired the House Budget Committee from 2001 to 2006, was lauded by Republicans and some Democrats for his budget experience.

“He understands the federal budget and the relationship between Congress and the administration. … He’s in a position to be a strong advocate for the president’s fiscal policies,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and current Budget Committee chairman, said Mr. Nussle “is well-versed in the budget and knows the principles of the Congress well, so I think he’ll do well.”

The Iowa Democratic Party blamed Mr. Nussle for turning a $236 billion budget surplus in the 2000 fiscal year into a $260 billion deficit in fiscal 2006.

Rep. Tom Latham, Iowa Republican, defended Mr. Nussle, saying the budget deficit was created by the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, and then by the September 11 attacks and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Portman will be “very hard to replace,” said Stephen Hess, a media and public relations professor at George Washington University. “It was very unusual for this administration to have someone in a top position who was that popular with Congress and an opposition Congress,” Mr. Hess said.

Mr. Portman took the OMB job in April 2006, after serving as U.S. trade representative for one year. Mr. Portman served from 1993 to 2005 as a U.S. congressman from Ohio.

Because of his rapport with Democrats, Mr. Portman was a key player as the White House budget director in negotiations with Congress. He was involved in talks on the president’s threat to veto nine out of 12 upcoming spending bills, and on the immigration debate.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the administration’s push for a comprehensive immigration reform bill would proceed “full steam ahead,” despite Mr. Portman’s departure.

Mr. Portman is the latest in a series of high-profile, high-ranking White House officials to resign. Counselor to the president Dan Bartlett announced his resignation earlier this month, after working for Mr. Bush for 14 years. In March, Sara Taylor, director of political affairs, announced her resignation.

{bullet}Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.

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