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White House shake-up to continue?

Suzanne Malveaux / CNN | April 4 2006

Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan and Treasury Secretary John Snow could be next in a shake-up in the Bush administration, according to White House and GOP sources.

The possible departure of both men could be among "several senior-level staff" announcements to come within the next couple of weeks, said former White House staff members, GOP strategists and administration officials.

"You're going to have more change than you expect," one GOP insider said.

One change already has been announced: Chief of staff Andy Card officially will leave April 14 and is being replaced by Josh Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Under one scenario, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, would replace McClellan, Republican officials said.

But other GOP strategists said they believe McClellan's position is secure because of his close relationship with President Bush going back to Texas. McClellan was a communications aide to the president when he was governor of the Lone Star state.

Despite the administration's public comments of support for Snow, sources inside and outside the White House have said Bush has been ready to replace the treasury chief for the past year and has been searching for an "acceptable alternative."

Others are expected to survive the shake-up. Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, Vice President Dick Cheney's team, and Joe Hagin, Bush's deputy chief of staff, likely will stay, administration sources said.

The White House press office declined to comment on personnel decisions.

The changes would come during a tough stretch of time for the president, whose poll numbers have dropped, in particular because of growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.

Focus on Congress, communications
In his new role as chief of staff, Bolten is focusing on improving White House communications and legislative affairs to regenerate the administration's message and performance, said sources familiar with his thinking.

"There are two positions he is anxious to turn -- Scott's position and legislative affairs," said a source with close ties to the White House.

"It's not about who but what is broken. He does not view it ... in terms of personalities, that's the way Josh thinks," another source said. "Josh keeps his counsel fairly close. He's very logical, and the logical place to start looking is communications."

Numerous Republican officials said the discussion is focused on McClellan.

"There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the state of communications, the daily communication from the podium, the congressional communications and strategic communications from both in and outside the White House," said one White House insider.

Another such insider said, "It is something the president would have to decide directly. While Josh Bolten wouldn't have to get permission to get rid of others, the president really likes McClellan. They go back all the way back to Texas. And Scott has no real intention of leaving."

Several Republican officials said one idea under consideration would be to have Bartlett take over McClellan's spot.

"Dan would have to let go of significant responsibilities. All the chairs would shift if that happened," said one GOP official.

Sources with close ties to White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace dismissed speculation she might leave. Recent reports revealed her husband, who has post at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, moved to New York last week.

'Elder statesman-type' sought for legislative liaison
Bolten is looking for a strong "elder statesman-type" to reach out to lawmakers, and many Republicans have complained the White House has dealt with Congress "as a transmitter but not receiver."

"The Bush White House has dealt with Congress in a highhanded way, and people are angry. But there is no magic cure," said one Republican official.

The future of Candida Wolff, head of legislative affairs, is unclear.

Many White House insiders said "she is not the problem," describing her as a "nice, smart, hard worker," but they said she is "too junior" to turn around the administration's poor relationship with some senior Republicans.

Some prominent names mentioned for the position include former Rep. Bill Paxon, a New York Republican, and former Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican.

Paxon, a lawmaker from 1989-99, is described as "someone everyone likes" and "after 10 years or so out of the spotlight might be ready to roll again."

Gramm, who stepped down in 2002, is described as "someone who would be a great play for the base but not a strong on the communications front."

Sources close to former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tennessee, and GOP adviser Vin Weber are no longer on the short list for legislative liaison.

Sources: Dissatisfaction with Snow not new
GOP sources said that even before the change in chief of staff was announced, Bush had been trying to find a replacement for Snow.

A couple of weeks ago, Bush offered the job to Time Warner Chairman and CEO Dick Parsons, who turned down it, sources said. (Time Warner is the parent company of CNN.com.)

Sources said the White House has had difficulty getting someone to accept the position.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has expressed interest but is said not to be close to the president. Gramm has also expressed interest.

While those close to Snow dismiss talk of his imminent departure as rumor, one acknowledged "he's not going to be turning down the lights in January 2009 for the next guy to come in. ... He's going to leave at some point in time when it makes sense, but now he's focusing on his work."

But many White House and Republican officials are not so diplomatic.

"You've got an economic team that can't communicate about the economy. You've had two terrible secretaries. He's seen as really bad," an official said.

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