Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush II Cabinet: The Shuffle and Shape of Things to Come ; His Inner Sanctum Faces One of the Biggest Turnovers since Nixon. but with an Agenda Already Set, the Cast of Characters May Matter Less

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush II Cabinet: The Shuffle and Shape of Things to Come ; His Inner Sanctum Faces One of the Biggest Turnovers since Nixon. but with an Agenda Already Set, the Cast of Characters May Matter Less

Article excerpt

It is now possible to count on one hand the Bush cabinet members who may yet stick around for the second term. Assuming that both Treasury Secretary John Snow and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta (the cabinet's only Democrat) both leave as expected, that will bring the exodus to 10 out of 15.

And it is telling that on a day with yet more shakeup in the president's team - the nomination of a new Homeland Security secretary and the resignations of the UN ambassador and health secretary - the Bush administration put out word that someone is actually staying: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Ironically, since President Bush's first inaugural, Mr. Rumsfeld has been the cabinet member facing the most consistent rumors of imminent departure. In the summer of 2001, he appeared headed for the exits over clashes with Pentagon brass. After 9/11, which essentially froze the cabinet in place, Rumsfeld teetered again over his running of the Iraq war, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

But on Friday, the administration put out word, on background, that Rumsfeld is "the right person at this moment in our history in fighting the war on terror to lead our armed forces."

For those keeping score, the cabinet members besides Rumsfeld who have not resigned or been rumored heading for the exits are: Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

On one level, all this churn is less significant than meets the eye. Bush has already sketched out the broad outlines of his second- term goals - progress in Iraq and major changes to Social Security and the tax system - and the cabinet's role is implementation, not vision.

Echoes of Nixon

Still, all the resignations, going off like a string of firecrackers, are striking for their breadth and speed. Some cabinet members are leaving because they were, indeed, ready to move on after an exhausting run. But with others, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had by many accounts offered to stay on beyond the second inauguration, there was a clear message from the top of "no, thank you."

"We haven't seen this since Richard Nixon roamed the halls of the West Wing," says Marshall Wittmann, a political independent and senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council. "There's more here than meets the eye. After four years, it's not unusual for cabinet members to leave; what's striking here is the volume. It leads one to believe that this was orchestrated."

It was President Nixon who, the morning after his reelection, asked all his cabinet members and top aides to tender their resignations, a move that sent morale plummeting, including among those ended up staying. Bush did not repeat that mistake, but he will achieve what Nixon was aiming for: to put in place a rejuvenated team that represents a blend of the old and the new, with an aura of loyalty running throughout. …

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