Bush Places Loyalists At Helm

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By David Paul Kuhn, CBSNews.com chief political writer


President Bush is seeking to sew up loyalists within the executive branch as he reshapes his Cabinet. Movement within the administration reflects confidence and assurance from Mr. Bush, as he consolidates power and remains intent on continuing the policies of the past four years, political analysts say.

The administration's prime voice of dissent, Secretary of State Colin Powell, will likely be replaced with one of Mr. Bush's closest political confidantes. President Bush selected national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to succeed Powell.

"She has earned my trust," said Mr. Bush, enunciating the word "trust," as he formally nominated Rice Tuesday. Mr. Bush appreciates loyalty above all. Rice has long been part of the president's inner circle.

"Bush values two things: No. 1 is loyalty, and No. 2 is continuity," said Paul Light, an expert on the executive branch at New York University and The Brookings Institution.

"First-term presidents often learn, as Nixon did, as Reagan did, that your first-term appointments are often designed to bulk up the resume of their administration and are not necessarily those who turnout to be most loyal allies," Light continued. "The second term, with the two-term limitation, permits the president to appoint more freely. And Bush is reaching out to strengthen his control of the federal bureaucracy with people who have been maximally loyal to him."

Next to Rice, the most visible cabinet vacancy is being filled by another close aide to Mr. Bush. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is replacing John Ashcroft as attorney general.

Gonzales is considered closer with President Bush than Ashcroft. Gonzales' service dates back to Texas, where he also served as legal counsel for then-Governor Bush. Though not as conservative or controversial as Ashcroft, Gonzales is linked to some of the more contentious policies in Mr. Bush's first term.

Gonzales authored a White House memo that defended the policy of detaining combatants at Guantanamo Bay without legal representation. Referring to the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," Gonzales' counsel to Mr. Bush was later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rice has also had her rough moments. The Sept. 11 commission reported that Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley ignored six intelligence reports of "al Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack." Requests for "principal" level meetings also went unheeded by Rice, according to the commission.

But in selecting Rice to be secretary of state, Hadley to replace Rice as national security adviser and Gonzales to replace Ashcroft, Mr. Bush is standing by his aides de camp.

"Over the first four years, Bush became more and more convinced of the rightness of his cause," Light said. "These new appointments reflect that basically, 'I'm going continue the way I was going and I don't want a whole lot of back and forth about it; I'm not going to bring in a lot people who are going to challenge the prevailing wisdom.'"

"I think you can expect a harder line from the administration," he added, "in not tolerating dissent from within and really not listening to dissent from outside."

Democrats are not expected to stand in the way of the appointment of either Gonzales or Rice. Most likely, what political capital remains for Democrats will be saved for the impending battle over Supreme Court nominations.

As Mr. Bush is selecting close aides, he is also placing minorities at unprecedented positions in the White House. If approved by the Senate, Rice will be the first black woman to serve as secretary of state while Gonzales will be the first Hispanic attorney general.

Rice marks the sixth new secretary of the 15-member cabinet. Between one and three more resignations are expected before the New Year.

"The pattern is not that much different than what went on in Ronald Reagan's second term," said Edwin Meese, attorney general under Reagan and a fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

Though considered more hawkish and aligned with neoconservatives, Rice will invariably take on the role of her position, Meese said.

"Any secretary of state is going to be presenting the institutional views of that department, tempered or in addition to their own views," he added.

But Rice lacks the gravitas of Powell. A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security adviser, Powell was considered a viable presidential candidate in 1996.

Some question whether Powell's resignation marks a gap for a healthy level of dissent. By all accounts, the administration is increasingly being comprised of likeminded leadership.

"I think that's one of the take-aways that Bush is pulling from the election, if there is a mandate on policy, it's stay the course and don't tolerate dissent," Light said.

But, experts also point out that Rice offers something equally valuable in White House politics. She has the president's ear.

"Clearly [Powell] tempered positions and was a good representative of other continuances," said John Fortier, executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission at the American Enterprise Institute. "But Condi Rice has something at least as valuable, in a way Al Gonzales does too, being so close to the president gives you access and connection to the president and the power to do things more than the outsiders."

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.