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Political Power Player Rove Leaves the Game


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.



And I'm Robert Siegel.

Karl Rove, President Bush's closest political adviser, is stepping down at the end of the month. He's the architect of the president's White House campaigns and Republican Party strategy. Officially, he is Deputy Chief of Staff. Rove also is the latest in a line of White House officials heading for the exits as the Bush Administration winds down. Karl Rove leaves behind a mixed legacy, many political wins, but some major miscalculations, too.

We have two reports, first NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The announcement this morning on the South Lawn of the White House was an emotional moment for the two men who have had such a symbiotic relationship over the years. President Bush sounded a bit wistful as he mentioned, not the advice Rove gave him, but the friendship he provided.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We've known each other as youngsters interested in serving our state. And we worked together so we can be in a position to serve this country. And so I thank my friend. I'll be on the road behind you here in a little bit.


NAYLOR: Rove, his voice quavering, said the years he spent Mr. Bush were an exhilarating and eventful time.

Mr. KARL ROVE (White House Deputy Chief of Staff): And I'm grateful to have been witness to history. It has been a joy and the honor of a lifetime. I've seen a man of far-sighted courage put America on a war footing and protect us against a brutal enemy in a dangerous conflict that will shape this new century.

NAYLOR: The two men briefly hugged and then walked to the Marine helicopter that would take them on the first part of their journey together back to Texas.

Karl Rove leaves behind a reputation in Washington that is equal parts political mastermind and bareknuckle brawler. He was instrumental in Mr. Bush's political career directing his campaigns for governor and then for the White House. In 2002, he oversaw a midterm election campaign in which Republicans increased their numbers in Congress, the first time the president's party had accomplished that in a first term midterm election since 1934. Two years later, Republicans again added to their congressional majority as President Bush was returned to the White House, thanks in part to a GOP Get-Out-the-Vote campaign that turned out Bush voters in record numbers.

While the vaunted 72-hour plan Rove helped design identified likely Bush voters, Rove was also instrumental in honing the message, which in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war demonized Democrats.

Here he is speaking about the 2006 campaign.

Mr. ROVE: President Bush believes if al-Qaida is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why. Some of important Democrats clearly disagree.

NAYLOR: The politicization of national security was a hallmark of Rove's tenure as chief political operative. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal today, Rove said the Democrats were likely to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton as their presidential nominee next year and he labeled her, quote, "tough, tenacious and fatally flawed." But Rove's predictions have hardly been flawless. He told this show last fall that Republicans would retain control of Congress despite a wealth of public poll showing the opposite.

Mr. ROVE: I'm looking at all of these, Robert, and add them up, and I add up to a Republican Senate or a Republican House. You may end up with a different math but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to the math.

NAYLOR: Rove's math, however, added up wrong, and the Democratic Congress he insisted was out of the question is now hot in his pursuit. Several committees in the House and Senate are interested in questioning Rove about everything from this involvement in the leaking of Valerie Plame's name to the firings of U.S. attorneys and the disappearance of thousands of e-mails.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): I am surprised that he is leaving before the end of the term, but I'm not sure of what does he intend to do. He has not answered our subpoenas in the Judiciary Committee. He's still going to be subject to the subpoenas. We will continue to push forward.

NAYLOR: For his part, Rove told the Wall Street Journal his future plans include time with his family and to write a book on the Bush years. He says he's unlikely to take any formal role in the 2008 campaigns.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.