Powell, 3 Others Leaving Cabinet

Times Staff Writers

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced his resignation today, as did three other Cabinet members, but all vowed to ensure a seamless transition by staying until their successors take office.

"This will be a smooth process to get their replacements in position before these people leave," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Later today, it was made known that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, one of the president's most trusted advisors, will be nominated to succeed Powell, Associated Press reported.

With Powell's departure, President Bush will be losing a man with the greatest star power in his Cabinet, someone widely seen as possessing presidential timber himself. But in the run-up to the Iraq war, Powell saw his reputation tarnished after presenting to the United Nations intelligence that turned out to be faulty.

In a statement, Bush hailed Powell as "one of the great public servants of our time," adding: "He is a soldier, a diplomat, a civic leader, a statesman, and a great patriot. I value his friendship. He will be missed."

McClellan rejected suggestions that Powell's departure signaled the ascendancy of a more hard-line foreign policy advocated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.

"That's the typical D.C. speculation game that people like to engage in, no matter how wrong it is," he told reporters during his daily briefing.

Powell, the first black Secretary of State and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he plans to "return to private life."

The other Cabinet members who resigned were Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Education Secretary Rod Paige.

Also today, the president urged members of the Republican National Committee to elect Ken Mehlman, who managed the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, as its new chairman during its winter meeting in mid-January. Mehlman would succeed Ed Gillespie, who intends to return to his lobbying firm.

The resignations announced today were the latest wave in what will likely be a mass exodus from the Bush Cabinet and the White House in the wake of the president's reelection. As McClellan put it: "This is a natural period when members of the Cabinet are reflecting on their own positions and their futures."

Last week, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans announced their resignations. So far, Bush has made only one appointment, nominating White House Chief Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to replace Ashcroft at the Justice Department.

Presidential historians noted that the departures are not surprising because Bush's Cabinet has been more stable than many of its predecessors, with many secretaries serving the entire first terms - including Powell, Abraham, Veneman and Paige.

Although several of President Clinton's Cabinet secretaries served the full eight years, the average tenure in recent history has been fewer than three years, said G. Calvin Mackenzie, an expert on presidential appointments at Colby College.

"These are hard, burnout jobs," he said. "People typically come to these jobs later in their lives. They're older. They've already accomplished a great deal. They're not looking for merit badges. It's not uncommon for them to do their job and then leave, and somebody else comes in."

Mackenzie said one challenge facing Bush was to come up with replacements that would not get entangled in partisan Senate confirmation battles.

McClellan said Bush would move "as quickly as possible" to name successors, but added that there is "no specific timetable."

He said White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., was heading up the process of developing potential job candidates and has been consulting with the chiefs of staff of the agencies.

Mackenzie predicted that at least some of the replacements would be White House advisors or other administration officials instead of high-profile outsiders. They make appealing candidates because they live in Washington, their strengths and weaknesses are known, and they provide continuity for policies.

"Second-term appointments don't carry the luster of first-term appointment," Mackenzie said. "It's harder to get good people to come into a second term because it's not as exciting, the bloom is off the rose, and you probably got the people you really wanted in the first term."

Towson University political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar said it appeared that Bush was moving quickly to assemble his second-term Cabinet so the balance of the year could be devoted to discussions of the administration's policy agenda rather than chatter about personnel changes, as occurred during the lull between Bill Clinton's first and second terms.

"Their intention is to appoint their people by Thanksgiving. In the Clinton administration it was to do so by Christmas," Kumar said. "Even though it's only a month's difference, it provides an opportunity to command the stage during a period when no one else in Washington is talking."

With six Cabinet departures already in the offing, Bush is poised to enjoy a full transition period, one that he did not have four years ago because that disputed election was not settled until Dec. 13, 2000, when Democrat Al Gore conceded. Thus, the president appears well-positioned to start his second term without undue delay.

But Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, warned that it may take significantly longer to fill the array of "sub-Cabinet" posts, that is, the senior positions in each of the agencies facing a vacancy at the top.

"This is the beginning of a massive restructuring of the sub-Cabinet," Light said. "And it's going to require a great deal of work. But second-term presidents have only a very short time to make their mark."

Among other Cabinet secretaries who also may resign in the coming weeks and months are Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, trade representative Robert Zoellick, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet.

Abraham, 52, leaves the Energy Department after a tenure marked by frustration over the administration's inability to win congressional approval for Bush's high-priority energy bill, which emphasized increased energy production and conservation, including drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In his resignation letter, Abraham claimed that 90% of what was in the energy legislation has been achieved administratively; but Bush throughout the just-ended campaign had made no effort to hide his frustration over the refusal of Congress to pass a national energy bill.

Although Abraham, a former Michigan senator, received mixed reviews as a salesman for Bush's initiatives, some analysts said his role was overshadowed by Vice President Dick Cheney's direct involvement in formulating energy policy behind closed doors.

"He [Abraham] shepherded Bush's energy plan as well as he could," said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an energy economist at the Institute for International Economics in Washington. "Cheney set the energy policy. All he did was implement it. He was the functionary."

During his tenure at Energy, crude oil and gasoline prices soared, but Abraham declined repeated calls to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way to ease price pressures. He took a personal interest in programs to safeguard nuclear materials and promote hydrogen-fuel vehicles.

Possible successors are said to include retiring Democratic Sen. John Breaux, a moderate from energy-rich Louisiana; Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn, who was a Bush classmate at Yale, and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, a former Texas energy regulator.

As agriculture secretary, Veneman, 55, led a sprawling agency with more than 100,000 employees and an annual budget exceeding $80 billion. The daughter of a California peach grower, she headed the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1995 to 1999.

Veneman, a breast cancer survivor, was seen as an able farm trade negotiator and loyal promoter of the president's policies, and was widely praised for the administration's rapid response to the first reports of mad cow disease in the United States.

But she also drew criticism for her role in the development of massive farm subsidy legislation that has undermined U.S. credibility in global trade talks.

One potential Veneman successor is said to be Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas), a moderate who lost his reelection bid this month after 13 terms in the House.

Other potential replacements include Agriculture Undersecretary Bill Hawks, U.S. agriculture trade negotiator Allen Johnson, White House agriculture advisor Chuck Conner, Agriculture Department conservation chief Bruce Knight, and Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruze.

Paige, 71, is best known for his role in promoting the president's No Child Left Behind initiative, which imposed testing and accountability standards on elementary and middle schools.

A former superintendent of schools in Houston, Paige was the first African American to serve as the nation's top education official. He said he intended to return to Texas to devote attention to "a personal project" he did not identify.

A leading candidate to replace him is Bush's chief domestic policy advisor, Margaret Spellings, who played a prominent role in development of No Child Left Behind. Bush has said one of his top priorities for his second term is to expand the initiative to encompass the nation's high schools.

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