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    Bolten Prepares to Assume Top White House Post

    Republicans in Congress are hoping that incoming White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten will help turn around President Bush's faltering political fortunes. Bolten will soon replace long-time Bush chief of staff Andy Card.

    The high-level staff change comes in the wake of low public approval ratings for the president and demands from Republicans to shakeup the White House staff.

    Mr. Bush describes Josh Bolten as a creative policy thinker.

    "He is a man of candor and humor and directness, who is comfortable with responsibility, and knows how to lead," he said.

    Bolten is currently budget director, and served in the White House during the president's first term.

    "You have set a clear course to protect our people at home, to promote freedom abroad and to expand our prosperity," he said.

    Bolten replaces Andy Card, who is returning to private life after having served as Mr. Bush's chief of staff for nearly five-and-one-half years, the second longest tenure in that White House post in history.

    Card is best remembered as the aide who whispered in the president's ear that America was under attack on September 11, 2001.

    Stephen Hess, a presidential expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington says, presidents often make staff changes in their second terms, especially when faced with low public approval ratings.

    "Lots of people have been demanding a shakeup," he said. "It happens in every administration, when a president is in trouble. Those in Washington, the so-called pundits, sometimes others, say, 'do not just stand there, do something.'"

    Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, are concerned that President Bush's weak position in public opinion polls could hurt their re-election chances in November.

    Some Republicans had urged the president to go outside his inner circle, and choose a more senior figure to head the White House staff, in hopes of turning around negative views of the administration's handling of Iraq and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

    "I think, people will be happy with Josh Bolten as a competent person, who will come in and fill the shoes that Andy Card filled before. But, there really is no new blood," said John Fortier, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

    "I think, what people are looking for is some senior person, some senior Republican, who has standing on his own, to come into the White House, and be able to talk to Bush outside of the existing staff that he has," he added.

    University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato expects Bolten will be given the opportunity to make other changes, as well.

    "People have been expecting a staff change, and, certainly, Republicans have been encouraging it. Whether this is a significant enough staff change is another question," he said.

    Experts say staff changes usually make little difference in public perceptions of a president's performance or policies.

    But analyst Stephen Hess says there have been times when it did have an impact.

    "I think, it made a difference that Ronald Reagan brought in Howard Baker after the Iran Contra Scandal," he said. "Why? It was a scandal. Things needed a cleaning out, and a new person came in to help do that. That was a fairly unique thing. This present situation with George W. Bush, whatever his problems are, they do not have to do with an individual scandal."

    Instead, Stephen Hess says, public discontent about Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq remains at the heart of the administration's political problems.

    "I mean, this is primarily about Iraq," he said. "There is no sense in talking about his education policy, or something like that. I mean, he has been in office now for nearly six years. He has got one major policy, in which he has thrown all the chips into the game. Is it going to work? We shall see."

    After a brief transition period with Andy Card, Josh Bolten will assume his new duties in mid-April.


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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