Claude A. Allen, a controversial conservative who was one of the first African American aides to North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, is President Bush's new domestic policy advisor, the White House announced Wednesday.
Allen, deputy Health and Human Services secretary since 2001, joins the president's senior staff as assistant to the president a little more than a year after Senate Democrats blocked his nomination to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in part over a controversial remark he made about gays. Allen replaces Margaret Spellings, who has been nominated to be secretary of Education.
In a written statement, Bush called Allen, 44, a "valuable member of my administration since 2001, helping to improve the health and welfare of all Americans."
"He is a dedicated public servant and a tireless advocate for those in need," the president said. "I look forward to his continued service in this new role as my domestic policy advisor."
The appointment was announced with several other White House staff changes as the administration prepared for what was expected to be an ambitious second term.
Dan Bartlett, Bush's longtime aide, was promoted from communications director to counselor to the president. Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the 2004 presidential campaign and a former press secretary to the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will be Bartlett's chief deputy.
The White House also announced that senior political strategist Karl Rove, credited by Bush as the architect of his reelection, would remain in the West Wing.
The appointment of Allen, though, is likely to irritate Bush's critics. Allen, who studied linguistics and political science at the University of North Carolina and earned a law degree from Duke University, has been a controversial figure since taking a job in the 1980s as a spokesman for Helms, the conservative Republican from North Carolina.
During hearings in 2003 on his judicial nomination, Democratic senators grilled Allen about remarks he made to a North Carolina newspaper during Helms' 1984 reelection campaign. In that interview, he accused Helms' Democratic challenger, then-Gov. James Hunt, of having links to "radical feminists" and "queers." He also warned of connections between Hunt and socialists and labor unions.
In the 2003 hearings, Allen said he did not intend to slur gays. Instead, he said, he was trying to describe "odd" people involved with the Hunt campaign.
"I don't believe that we should use words that are pejorative in nature, that denigrate any individual," Allen told the senators.
He also was asked to reflect on Helms' filibuster in 1983 of the proposed federal holiday honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. -- a move that prompted some African American leaders to attack Allen's decision to continue working for Helms.
Allen told the senators Helms' action was "deeply conflicting."
"It was the most difficult day for me in my life, because here was someone that I had grown up respecting, deeply respecting for his contribution to American society, for fighting for the civil rights not just of black people in this country but of all people in this country," Allen said of King.