The president is unlikely to order a clean sweep of his appointees, but may move up junior officials as Cabinet chiefs opt for a graceful exit.
If George W. Bush is re-elected after touting the steadiness and wisdom of his policies and the talents of his loyal subordinates during his first four years, why would he change his Cabinet by Inauguration Day? The conventional wisdom is that he won't seek a dramatic shake-up but instead might find himself promoting junior-grade officers to fill vacancies around his table. Put another way, some White House insiders confide they can't quite picture the president ordering White House Chief of Staff Andy Card to take a broom to Team Bush in January 2005, if Bush beats John Kerry. A president so resolute about his policies, the insiders figure, is likely to remain loyal to his team. If Card knows Bush's plans for his second-term Cabinet and staff, the chief of staff believes that saying anything publicly would be appallingly presumptuous. "We'll deal with those questions at the appropriate time," Card said good-naturedly as he stepped away from the television cameras in St. Louis after the second of three presidential debates.When pressed, however, Card conceded that he had "a pretty good idea," in part from personal conversations, whether each Cabinet secretary planned to depart of his or her own volition if Bush is re-elected, or desired to remain in some capacity for a second term. Card said he had "tasked a few people" out of his office to work on second-term staffing matters for Bush. "We will be prepared to fulfill our constitutional duties on January 20," he said, constructing a tidy sentence that affirmed the obvious in the event of a Bush victory or a Bush defeat.If history is any guide, three-quarters of the 20 Cabinet-level positions in the Bush administration could be vacated early next year if the president wins in November. Voluntary administration turnover -- because of exhaustion, family and health concerns, or the lure of generous compensation in the private sector after serving a president -- is typical within the first two years, let alone the walk-up to a second term. "This Cabinet has been remarkably stable," said political scientist G. Calvin Mackenzie, a professor at Colby College and one of the country's acknowledged experts on presidential appointments and government ethics. Bill Clinton's Cabinet set the standard for longevity, and before him, Ronald Reagan's had an average stretch of 3.27 years -- nearly twice the average in Richard Nixon's Cabinet, and almost a year longer than the averages for Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, according to research by Gettysburg College political science professor Shirley Anne Warshaw.Although second-term reorganizations offer a natural opening for graceful exits, Bush would probably not ask for en masse resignations to clear the decks, Card told reporters this summer. "That's not his nature," he said as he veered into an evocative mixed metaphor. "It's not the president's nature to throw his old shoes away. He actually likes to wear old shoes, because they're comfortable. So I wouldn't expect him to demand that someone pull the plug in the White House and drain everyone out." When one reporter suggested that George H.W. Bush sought blanket resignations when he succeeded Reagan, Card -- who was a member of Bush 41's White House staff -- dismissed that recollection as "a wonderful myth," adding, to collective laughter, "and sometimes, that myth is helpful."Clinton did not seek government-wide resignations after he secured a second term in 1996, former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said in an interview. "There was really a sense that there was no need to go through that process, because we knew who was leaving and who was going to stay, and there were not a lot of guns out." Panetta used a Cabinet meeting well before Election Day to ask Clinton's secretaries to make time for a private chat with him so he could assess "what their intentions were." Five of Clinton's Cabinet-level executives (at Justice, Health and Human Services, Education, Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency) stayed put all eight years, a feat of stamina not seen in other modern administrations.In Bush's case, the overlay of an ongoing war in Iraq and the broader "war on terror" makes the question of continuity a strategic question of life-and-death success or failure. To some Republican observers, Bush's Cabinet team should, out of duty to country in tough times, consider remaining on post. "Some of them act like it's an intermission of the country club -- time to go make some money," one Bush supporter sniffed. (One political advantage of continuity is the avoidance of bloody confirmation battles in what will remain a narrowly divided Senate after Election Day.) Others watching from the sidelines wonder whether the president will want to remedy what some have identified as a serious flaw in Bush's national security team -- the ideological chasms that yawned into global view between State's internationalists and the neoconservative unilateralists driving Pentagon policy. The differences, critics lament, create unwelcome confusion about U.S. policies abroad. Bush has never evidenced impatience with his war Cabinet's frictions or failures -- and has certainly shown none of the intolerance that prompted him to fire two members of his initial economic team. One explanation may be that Bush believes that every member of his war Cabinet is invested in his goals in Afghanistan and Iraq, whereas Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill openly quarreled with the central mission of Bush's first-term economic policy, which was cutting taxes."There are not too many precedents in American history of presidents who think they were correct [and then change] their policies," said Al Felzenberg, a former adjunct fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the communications director for the 9/11 commission. Abraham Lincoln altered his policy during the Civil War, and Franklin Roosevelt said the only constant of the New Deal was change -- but they "were willing to change when the outcome was not producing the desired result," he added. Bush's campaign is antithetical to the notion that he believes his policies in Iraq or against terrorism are not producing the desired results.On domestic policy, Bush's second-term agenda is in soft focus -- think tax "simplification," Social Security "reform," and expansion into high schools of the No Child Left Behind education accountability requirements. Bush's unwillingness to be explicit on the stump as he has campaigned for a second term guarantees that the electorate is not well informed, or thoroughly prepared for what he may deliver. "There is not a clearly articulated agenda for the second term, as there was in the first," said Towson University presidency scholar Martha Joynt Kumar. "That's very much in keeping with what other presidents have done, but at the same time, that's been one of the recurring perils of second terms."Kumar -- who has extensively evaluated the best and worst of White House organizations and transitions for the practical benefit of incoming administrations -- said that second terms inevitably tend to be extensions of the first four years and wind up being less productive. "One of the hazards is that people leave an administration after the first term, and there's little memory" of many of the president's original policy steps and rationales, she added. "While you do want some turnover, at the same time you want some of the experience and institutional memory that was there in the first four years." Without a clear agenda, or some holdover talent, the organization around a president can drift into "freelancing, as we saw in the Reagan second term with Iran-Contra," Kumar said.Stephen Moore, president of the conservative Republican political advocacy group Club for Growth, wants Bush to resist the tug of history if he puts together a second-term team. "Second terms are tough. You don't get much done administratively," he said. "When incumbents get re-elected, they get elected not on a change agenda.... I think it's very advisable to shuffle the Cabinet. You run out of gas if you stay with your existing Cabinet secretaries, so I just think it makes sense to have a fresh start."
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National Security Team
Domestic PolicyContributing to this report were Carl M. Cannon, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Brian Friel, Siobhan Gorman, Jerry Hagstrom, Julie Kosterlitz, Margaret Kriz, Kellie Lunney, Marilyn Werber Serafini, Paul Singer, Bruce Stokes, and Peter H. Stone.