Howard Paster, the Administration's chief liaison to Congress, announced his resignation Tuesday, becoming the second high-level aide to leave in a week as long-predicted staff burnout began to take its toll on the Clinton White House.
Paster cited the relentless pace of the job as the reason for his departure, an explanation similar to that offered by colleague Roy Neel, the deputy chief of staff who announced his resignation late last week.
Earlier in the year, particularly when Clinton lost his economic stimulus package in the Senate, Paster came under fire from members of Congress. But since then, Clinton has won nearly every major vote on Capitol Hill--albeit at times by slim margins--and Paster's work has been widely praised, particularly around the White House. When he announced his departure at a senior staff meeting, other Clinton aides gave him a standing ovation, according to several who were present.
"It's a real loss," said Clinton's senior adviser, George Stephanopoulos.
White House aides roundly denied suggestions that Paster's departure reflected any disagreements within the staff. They said that the decision was attributable, as Paster said, simply to the pace of the work.
"It isn't a question of hours," Paster said in explaining his departure to reporters. "I knew that the job was long hours.
"The job doesn't end when one leaves the building," Paster said. "There are no recesses or weekends. The beeper and the phone do not respect any private time and maybe I should have, after being an old man in the city, appreciated all of that, but I have a feeling that we have set new standards of intensity.
"Probably the lesson in my case is that the President shouldn't have hired a chief lobbyist older than he is," joked Paster, who is 48--one year older than Clinton.
The departures of both Paster and Neel, who was put into the deputy chief of staff's job only last summer in the last White House staff shake-up, means that the President now must retool his operation at a time when it had shown signs of working properly and had proved capable of delivering several major victories.
And the departures again raise the question of whether the ambitious agenda Clinton has taken on--coupled with a system that puts a high premium on lengthy and frequent consultations and meetings--simply has put too much burden on his staff.
The White House historically has been a high-pressure place full of mostly young aides who routinely work hours that would be considered exceptional in almost any other job. But the pace of the Clinton White House has been unusual even by those standards.
In his first year, Clinton has compiled a legislative record that aides--and even some grudging opponents--regard as a considerable success. But the price has been a staff schedule that begins at dawn, often ends near midnight and continues around the calendar without breaks for weekends or more than an occasional holiday.
High-level White House officials can routinely be found at their desks well past 9 p.m. and, except for the President's own vacation in August, few have taken off time since his inauguration.
Stephanopoulos said that senior advisers are "sensitive to the grueling pace, no question about it. The President has talked about it." On the other hand, he added, "we knew the first year was going to be exceptional."
The second year may not be as rough as the first, he said, despite an agenda for next year that includes health care reform, a complex budget battle and major initiatives on welfare, worker training and crime.
Others were more skeptical. "I don't think the system is going to change," said one Clinton adviser. "It's very rare to see a system change that's working--regardless of the toll on people."
"The system is working," said another White House aide. "We're getting the results we want."