President Bush accepted the resignation Tuesday of his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., naming Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten as his successor as the White House moved to regain a political footing deeply shaken by the war in Iraq and a rebellious and worried Republican majority in Congress.
The shift at the very top of the White House staff, the first since Bush took office five years ago, comes amid continuing pressure on the president to overhaul a team respected for its loyalty but exhausted from the grind of running the government and repeated setbacks in Iraq and, politically, at home.
But no sooner was Bolten’s appointment announced than administration critics, Republicans among them, began questioning whether he would offer the breadth of experience and respect that they say Bush needs now, with his political standing at the lowest point of his presidency.
Challenging the move as falling short of a staff shake-up, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said: “They still need men and women of stature and gravitas in a number of slots there in the White House. They need to bring in some experienced hands to get a handle on things.”
In Bolten, who takes over as chief of staff April 14, Bush has promoted a Princeton-educated, motorcycle-riding lawyer who has been at his side since 1999 and, before that, was in his father’s administration and on a Senate committee staff.
Bolten, 51, became director of the Office of Management and Budget in June 2003.
His closeness to Bush is perceived as an asset, because he knows the president, and a detriment, given that administration critics and supporters are calling for new ideas.
“Josh is a good guy -- just not what this White House needs. They need a renovation, not just a new front door,” said a senior Republican who served in top positions in President Reagan’s White House and spoke on condition of anonymity because he continues to deal with the Bush White House.
“They need people who can give the president honest appraisals, and not just the same group that has gotten him in trouble in the second term,” he said.
But Nicholas E. Calio, the White House liaison to Congress during Bush’s first term, said Bolten was “the logical and best choice” because “he knows the president, he knows the issues, he knows the personalities.”
Besides, he said, Bush is not “particularly susceptible to calls that he needs to shake things up for the sake of shaking things up.”
As Card and Bolten stood on either side of Bush in the Oval Office on Tuesday morning, the president said: “Josh is a creative policy thinker. He’s an expert on the budget and our economy. He’s respected by members of Congress from both parties. He’s a strong advocate for effective accountable management in the federal budget.”
Card, he said, “has served me and our country in historic times: on a terrible day when America was attacked, during economic recession and recovery, through storms of unprecedented destructive power, in peace and in war.”
It was Card who leaned in to Bush in an elementary school classroom in Sarasota, Fla., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and whispered that a second airplane had struck the World Trade Center. “America’s under attack,” he told the president.
He guided administration efforts to revamp Medicare and education policy and to secure the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominees John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
But Card also was there for some of the White House’s major stumbles: the inability to persuade Congress to go along with Bush’s overhaul of Social Security, the much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina and the doomed Supreme Court nomination of White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.
Chief of staff since Bush was sworn in Jan. 20, 2001, Card, 58, was closing in on the record for longevity in the office: Sherman Adams, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chief of staff, was in the job for five years and eight months.
Card, who served the president’s father as deputy chief of staff and Transportation secretary, was among the first to arrive at the White House -- at 5:30 a.m. -- and would stay until the president retired for the night.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Card had approached Bush at the beginning of March and “raised the possibility of stepping down.” On Saturday, the president “reluctantly accepted his resignation.”
In an interview with CNN en Espanol, Bush said Card’s departure should not be seen as a sign of a larger shake-up. But, he added, “Josh’s job is to design a White House staff that meets the needs of the president.”
Asked if other changes were coming, he said: “Josh has just begun to take a look at the White House structure. And I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about the future yet.”
Rich Bond, a Republican political consultant who helped elect President George H.W. Bush and then served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Bolten’s top task would be to boost the president’s political standing sufficiently to retain Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
Times staff writers Janet Hook and Mary Curtius contributed to this report.