Never known as a man who says "I goofed," George W. Bush made headlines in the second Presidential debate when he reluctantly admitted: "I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them." This President rarely sacrifices a besieged ally -- as long as his or her fealty to Team Bush is not in question. So the President who won reelection by proclaiming his stay-the-course determination isn't likely to clear the decks. K Street lobbyists and Republican operatives mostly are speculating about who's too burned out to soldier on.
Any shifts will probably be concentrated in the foreign policy team. After their mammoth clashes over Iraq policy, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell appear to be playing a game of chicken: Neither wants to be the first to walk and leave the field to his rival. But insiders now are betting that Rumsfeld will be first to go. Rumsfeld, 72, may not be ready to leave just yet. He doesn't want to be remembered for failing to foresee the Iraqi insurgency or for fostering the climate that led to abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. He also is eager to finish his modernization of the military. But blunders in Iraq have undermined confidence in him to the point where he will have to go fairly soon, GOP advisers say.
A leading contender for the Pentagon chief's job would be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who spearheaded a White House effort a year ago to take command of the faltering U.S. occupation. The assumption in Washington is that she wants out of her job as head of the National Security Council. Rice, a Soviet affairs expert, oversaw budgets and academic programs as provost of Stanford University prior to joining the Administration. But running a sprawling government bureaucracy would test her mettle. Other candidates include Sean O'Keefe, head of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, and Navy Secretary Gordon England.
With Rumsfeld's star in decline, Powell could reclaim lost ground. But senior advisers say he's fed up with the turf battles and isn't likely to stick around for long either. Rice would be a front-runner for Powell's post, too. Bush insiders also are talking up two recently appointed ambassadors, John C. Danforth at the U.N. and John D. Negroponte at the U.S. mission in Baghdad, for the top State job.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is believed to be headed for the door after a tough slog in a post with little authority. Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson may well get the job, unless Bush prefers to reward former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, who campaigned vigorously for him. Kerik's business partner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, would appear a shoo-in, but he's looking for a higher-profile post as a spring-board for a possible White House run in 2008.
The economic team is the only place where Bush has ever cleaned house. But that's not going to happen this time. Any departures are likely to be voluntary. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, who has been in the job less than two years, is a tireless traveling salesman for Bushonomics and stays relentlessly on-message. He'll probably stick around. But Wall Street veteran Stephen Friedman, director of the National Economic Council for two years, may want to move on from that behind-the-scenes post. The leading candidate to succeed him is Tim Adams, Bush's campaign policy director and a former top Treasury aide. Adams, a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, is said to favor tax reform and deficit reduction to boost the savings rate. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan isn't expected to leave before his term expires in January, 2006. When he does, the leading candidate to succeed him is Harvard University professor Martin S. Feldstein, a respected economist who would be tough on inflation.
At the Office of Management & Budget, director Joshua B. Bolten may be asked to jump over to the White House. Bolten has the inside track to succeed White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. After four years in the grueling post, Card wants out. Bolten would retain a major role in budget policy, especially if he's followed at OMB by deputy Joel D. Kaplan. Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans is said to want to move back to Texas. That could mean an opportunity for Mercer Reynolds III, the Republican entrepreneur from Ohio who chaired the Bush-Cheney reelection effort and helped the Prez shatter fund-raising records.
Among domestic posts, the biggest headline-grabber will likely be the departure of Attorney General John Ashcroft, a too-controversial darling of conservatives. The favorites to succeed him start with Larry D. Thompson, Ashcroft's former deputy, who recently became general counsel at PepsiCo. Inc. (PEP ). Thompson, a distinguished lawyer respected by both Democrats and Republicans, would become the first African-American AG. White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales also is on the short list. Or Gonzales could realize his dreams of becoming the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Indeed, even before Bush sealed his victory, speculation was mounting on Court appointments. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who is being treated for thyroid cancer, may soon retire. Besides Gonzales, contenders for the nation's top court include J. Harvie Wilkinson III and J. Michael Luttig, both judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Edith H. Jones, also a federal appeals court judge; and Thompson. With a stronger majority in the Senate, Bush may test whether he can promote hard-line conservative Justice Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court's center seat.
Scholars say that a second-term shake-up can energize a Presidency. But Bush isn't the type to make wholesale changes. Familiar faces could be the rule for four more years.
By Amy Borrus, with bureau reports, in Washington