Robert Novak

Actually, as Weber surely would admit, the problems exposed by the Texas shooting were no aberration. But instead, they are systemic. Andrew Card, as Bush's only presidential chief of staff, has had an extraordinarily long tenure in that post of over five years, but has not dominated the presidential office in the manner of Sherman Adams and James Baker. Card always seemed less formidable than Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who with his additional title of deputy chief of staff mixes politics and policy.

If that is not complicated enough, Cheney is unique in the way he fills his constitutional office. Previous vice presidents either have been ignored or delegated specific duties, but Cheney is alone in emerging as an independent power center. A former White House chief of staff (in the Ford administration), Cheney is at least the equal of Card and Rove. Under this system, Cheney was able to keep quiet for 14 hours his accidental shooting of a fellow hunter.

The result was a week full of embarrassment and confusion, but the broader message is a dysfunctional White House that helps bring about a second term with an unclear domestic agenda and sagging party morale. Reports surfaced periodically during 2005 that new faces would appear in the interest of a more orderly, more effective administration.

Well-placed Republican sources reported that highly regarded Rob Portman, who resigned his congressional seat from Ohio to become U.S. trade representative, would come to the White House as chief of staff with expanded powers. As 2006 began, it was speculated that after the budget was presented former Sen. Phil Gramm would walk away from his lucrative commercial pursuits to become secretary of the treasury and a major positive force in the administration. However, talk of Portman and Gramm arriving appears to be wishful thinking.

The problem can be seen by the White House last week being more aggravated by Vin Weber's mild criticism than exposure of a dysfunctional staff system. The real cause for malaise is fear that the president will decide it is too late for a second-term reconstruction.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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