Outside the Office, Bolten Isn’t the Usual West Wing Insider
Joshua B. Bolten may be as much a loyalist as the rest of President Bush’s inner circle, but he cuts a very distinct profile outside the West Wing: He rides a motorcycle, loves to bowl and keeps a copy of the children’s book “Walter the Farting Dog” on his coffee table.
That gives Bolten a rare dash of idiosyncrasy in a notoriously buttoned-down White House, where he will soon replace Andrew H. Card Jr. as chief of staff.
Bolten, 51, brings other attributes that could help the White House in these troubled times, with congressional Republicans in open revolt and Bush’s policy agenda at sea. He has experience working on Capitol Hill and, as Bush’s budget director the last three years, has mastered broad swaths of domestic policy.
Bolten also is one of the few non-Texans in Bush’s tightknit group of advisors.
“He will reach out to a broader range of people to hear their point of view,” said Robert D. Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a Democrat who has worked with Bolten. “The worst way to serve the president is to narrow the range of advice he is exposed to.”
But one thing Bolten does not bring to the White House is what some Republicans think is needed most -- truly fresh blood. Like Card, Bolten has been a senior advisor to Bush without pause since his 2000 presidential campaign, and he also logged years working in Bush’s father’s White House.
Indeed, Bolten has worked for one Bush or the other for 11 of the last 18 years.
“He is very loyal, something this administration values,” said G. William Hoagland, budget advisor to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). “He keeps things pretty tight. If he disagrees [with Bush], he does not show it.”
Bolten may help smooth the rough edges of the White House’s relationship with Congress, where Republicans increasingly have complained that the administration gives short shrift to their views.
For Bolten, Capitol Hill is not unknown territory: He has worked closely with party leaders and budget writers since being named director of the Office and Management and Budget in 2003. His easygoing, nonconfrontational style was a welcome change from his predecessor as budget director, Mitch Daniels, who was often cutting and impatient in his dealings with lawmakers.
“We were in open warfare with his predecessor,” said James Dyer, a lobbyist who was staff director of the House Appropriations Committee until 2005. Bolten “came to the Hill and sat down with the chairman and said, ‘I’m really under orders to fix this relationship.’ ”
The son of a CIA employee, Bolten was born in Washington in 1954. He had a blue-chip education at St. Albans, the elite boys’ school in Washington, followed by Princeton University and Stanford Law School.
After a stint on the trade staff of the Senate Finance Committee from 1985 until 1989, he served in the George H.W. Bush administration as general counsel to the U.S. trade representative and as White House lobbyist. He left government for a lucrative job in the London office of Goldman Sachs International, then joined the Bush-Cheney campaign in Austin, Texas, in 1999 as policy director on the recommendation of Robert B. Zoellick, now deputy secretary of State.
After Bush was elected, Bolten became White House deputy chief of staff, where he continued to play a central role in policy development. But after the Sept. 11 attacks he was asked to oversee a group to find ways to bolster domestic security.
In 2003, Bush picked him to succeed Daniels as OMB director at a particularly difficult time. The budget deficit was burgeoning and the economy was weak, yet lawmakers were still clamoring for more federal spending on farm subsidies, on projects that benefited individual congressional districts and on other politically sacrosanct programs.
“He has one of the most thankless jobs in this town,” Hoagland said. “It’s a job that nobody’s going to give you great kudos for. You’re either under attack here [on Capitol Hill] or the agencies.”
Though Bolten’s rise in government has been conventional by Washington terms, his interests have not. He owns two motorcycles, one of which he keeps at Bush’s ranch near Crawford, Texas. In his OMB office, he displays a motorcycle gas tank commemorating the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.
During the 2000 campaign, he formed “Bikers for Bush.” Bolten, a bachelor, gained notoriety when he gave a motorcycle ride at one of the group’s rallies to actress Bo Derek.
An avid bowler, he sponsored an annual tournament for several years. Bush is one of his regular opponents during his frequent visits to the presidential retreat at Camp David. As a holiday gift one year, Bolten gave his staff bowling balls.