After five years, Card folds

Serving through hurricanes, wars, and recession, a weary Bush staffer steps down. Are more shake-ups to come?

When Andrew Card steps down as President Bush's chief of staff on April 14, as announced Tuesday, he will have lasted in the job 5 years, 2 months, and 25 days.

Mr. Card's longevity in that grueling job is bested only by Sherman Adams, President Eisenhower's chief of staff, who is better known for having resigned under fire over accepting an expensive vicuña fur coat from a Boston textile manufacturer.

The only cloud that Card leaves under is one of reported exhaustion. A seasoned Washington hand who had served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, Card was lauded Tuesday as likable, hardworking, and loyal. If there is any downside, analysts say, it is that Card leaves at a troubled time for the White House, which is laboring under dim public assessments and an intractable Iraq war. For months, top Republicans have called for Bush to shake up his team and bring fresh faces and energy into the White House.

"It was just time to go," says Stephen Hess, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who served as a speechwriter in the Eisenhower administration. "[Card] has been a very good chief of staff. He has done what the president needs done in the most expeditious way, making the fewest enemies possible in and out of government, making the trains run on time, and catching miscues along the way."

Card's replacement, Joshua Bolten - currently director of the Office of Budget and Management - is hardly a new face. He brings an experienced hand to the task. He served as Card's deputy, before going to OMB, and also has Capitol Hill experience that could prove useful as Bush tries to revive his stalled agenda and keep his party unified in the run-up to the fall congressional elections.

Speculation continues that Bush may yet bring a kind of "senior presence" - perhaps a senator - onto his team to bring an outsider's perspective and experience to the table, much the way President Reagan turned around his troubled presidency by bringing in former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker as chief of staff.

But so far, Bush has proved resistant to the idea of bringing new people into his inner circle, even as the cast of characters below the top at the White House changes fairly regularly.

In his Oval Office announcement Tuesday morning, Bush said that Card had come to him earlier this month and raised the possibility of stepping down. Last weekend, Bush accepted. The president then placed Card at the center of historic times - 9/11, economic ups and downs, wars, hurricanes. It was Card who whispered in Bush's ear, as he sat with schoolchildren in Florida on Sept. 11, 2001, that the nation was under attack.

"In all these challenges and accomplishments, I have relied on Andy's wise counsel, his calm in crisis, his absolute integrity, and his tireless commitment to public service," Bush said.

In recent months, Card has accepted blame for White House missteps on hurricane Katrina and the Dubai ports flap. But, analysts note, it is not up to just the chief of staff to keep the White House on top of its game; ultimately, the buck stops with the president.

For most of Card's time at Bush's side, he was "quite superb," says Mr. Hess. "What's happened in recent times, I guess he deserves some of the blame. The fact that he's stayed there that long is too bad, and too bad for everybody. It's just a killing job."

In the current era, a typical White House official lasts about two years in the job. President Clinton had four chiefs of staff during his eight years in office.

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