Latest News

New White House chief of staff is a Harley-riding policy geek

WASHINGTON—In 1999, a rising star at Goldman Sachs had a choice: Go to work for the firm's chairman or take a gamble and work for a presidential campaign.

Joshua Bolten chose George W. Bush's campaign. He's been with Bush ever since and was tapped Tuesday to be Bush's new White House chief of staff.

Bolten, 51, is a hybrid for a Washington insider. A self-described "policy geek," the soft-spoken bachelor prefers life beneath the political radar. Yet his penchant for anonymity notwithstanding, he's no stranger to flamboyant gestures: He rides several motorcycles, and his favorite is the 2003 anniversary edition Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. He's entertained White House staff with his rock band, the irreverently named "Deficit Attention Disorder." And he's friendly with actress Bo Derek.

Bolten easily could have taken a different track to a very different place. The Goldman Sachs chairman whom Bolten shunned: Jon Corzine, who left the investment bank soon after that to enter politics himself as a Democrat. He's now the governor of New Jersey.

In hindsight, it's clear that Bolten was meant for public life, not banking. He was reared in Washington, D.C. His father served in World War II, then spent a career at the CIA.

Bolten calls his mother the smartest person he's ever met.

With a bachelor's degree from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a law degree from Stanford, Bolten clerked for a federal judge in San Francisco, then practiced law and worked in the State Department.

He became international trade counsel to the Senate Finance Committee in the 1980s before joining George H.W. Bush's White House as a counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative and deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

After the elder Bush lost the White House in 1992, Bolten taught briefly at Yale, then joined Goldman Sachs for five years. A friend recommended him to the fledgling Bush campaign, and he warmed to the younger Bush immediately.

"I thought, boy, this would be terrific if I got a chance to work on this, even though I'd be forgoing this great opportunity to work . . . for the chairman of Goldman Sachs," Bolten recalled in an interview last year with C-SPAN.

After helping the campaign develop policy and assisting in the Florida recount that won Bush the White House, Bolten was named deputy chief of staff. In 2003, Bush named him director of the Office of Management and Budget.

His tenure there has been marked by the three largest federal budget deficits in history and soaring federal spending and debt that have angered conservatives in Bush's political base.

Bolten insists that the government is on track to cut the deficit in half within five years. But Democrats said his promotion represents a continuation of the same policies that produced record deficits. "As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney.

If such criticism gets to him, Bolten can always escape on one of his motorcycles.

"I've been riding motorcycles for about 25 years," he told C-SPAN. "It's a form of relaxation and diversion that (is) beautiful and exhilarating. But you have to concentrate. So you need to clear your mind of everything else, because if you're not concentrating properly when you're riding a motorcycle, you're putting your life in danger."


For the full C-SPAN interview:


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Bolten

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060328 BOLTEN Bio

Need to map

Related stories from McClatchy DC