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White House personnel changes aren't likely to affect policy

WASHINGTON—White House spokesman Scott McClellan resigned Wednesday and presidential adviser Karl Rove shed some responsibilities in the latest installment of President Bush's evolving second-term shakeup.

Like the previous personnel shifts, the latest moves are largely cosmetic and aren't likely to result in any dramatic policy changes. Bush is expected to name a replacement for McClellan within days; Rove will continue to serve as Bush's chief political strategist, while giving up direct responsibility for domestic and foreign policy.

The reshuffling is part of an effort by newly installed White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to re-energize the Bush administration and boost confidence in the president's leadership. But the changes to date have been incremental, typically replacing one insider with another.

Bush has resisted calls for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or other dramatic shifts that could signal a new course at the White House.

"The person at the top matters most. You can shuffle the deck, but the president is the ace of spades, and he's not going to change," said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University and an expert on federal personnel issues.

Even if he wanted to make big changes, Bush faces a shrinking pool of applicants.

"At this stage of an administration, nearly six years into it, it's incredibly difficult to get new people. Time is short. The most creative, interesting things have already been done," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, and a veteran of the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations.

It doesn't help that Bush's approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency. Former administration officials say Bush is having a hard time finding a replacement for Treasury Secretary John Snow because top Wall Street executives have little interest in the Washington job.

Snow has long been considered a top target for replacement in the second term.

"People aren't going to give up well-paying jobs in the private sector for being secretary of anything for two years," Light said.

McClellan's departure from one of the most difficult jobs in Washington was no surprise. He'd signaled in recent days that he was getting weary of his daily battles with the White House press corps.

McClellan, who came with Bush from Texas in 2001, replaced Ari Fleischer as the chief White House spokesman in July 2003.

"I've been at this for a long time," he told reporters traveling with Bush on Air Force One on Wednesday. "I didn't need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all kept tempting me."

Rove, a deputy White House chief of staff and one of Bush's closest advisers, will give up his policy duties to focus on politics and long-term planning. Bush tapped Joel Kaplan, a White House budget adviser, to serve as deputy chief of staff for policy.

The change frees Rove to devote his energies to trying to make sure the Republicans retain control of Congress in the November elections. McClellan said the shift wouldn't diminish Rove's considerable influence in the White House.

"Karl's voice will continue to be a crucial one in the policy process," he said.

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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BUSH MCCLELLAN

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060419 BUSH MCCLELLAN

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