News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, November 06, 2005 A White House Without Rove? -- Nov. 14, 2005 -- Page 1

He's not gone yet, but his Texas-size ambitions are giving way to smaller goals

He's weary. his wife and only child, who is approaching college, miss him. He has monstrous legal bills. His unique bond with the President is under stress. His most important work is done.

Karl Rove's colleagues don't know exactly when it will happen, but they are already laying out the reasons they will give for the departure of the man President George W. Bush dubbed the architect. A Roveless Bush seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. But that has changed as the President's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff remains embroiled in the CIA leak scandal.

Despite Rove's flashes of ebullience in recent days and the insistence of friends that he is out of legal jeopardy, several of the most important lawyers who deal with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said they saw more clues last week that Fitzgerald is continuing to look into the possibility of charging Rove with lying to investigators or the grand jury or both. If that happens, Rove almost certainly would resign immediately, as did I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, when Libby was indicted two weeks ago. Otherwise, Rove is likely to wait for a chance to minimize the perception that he is being hounded out or leaving under a cloud. And he's got one constituency rooting for him, the conservatives who rely on him to be their voice. If he leaves, he will not be alone. Several well-wired Administration officials predict that within a year, the President will have a new chief of staff and press secretary, probably a new Treasury Secretary and maybe a new Defense Secretary.

The expected departures are among a host of new signs suggesting that Bush's sixth year in office—the last one before midterm elections and a turn in attention toward the 2008 race to succeed him—will be very different from his first five. The sunny optimist who loved to think big is now facing polls in which for the first time a majority of Americans say they do not trust him. "It's like it's twilight in America," says one frustrated conservative.

At the White House, aides are meeting every day to work out a new agenda. A possible centerpiece is a road show next year to promote a plan for simplifying the million-plus words of the tax code, one of Bush's most reliable applause winners on the stump in 2004. Some aides have visions of the local-news-friendly "tax families" who appeared with Bush back in 2001, as he promised that if you pay taxes, his plan would give you relief. But in one indication of the kind of autumn it's been, the tax-reform commission he appointed to lay the groundwork for new tax legislation reported back last week with an unsalable hash that one senior Administration official called "a dog." So White House and Treasury officials will have to rewrite it, stripping out, among other things, a proposal to scale back the politically sacrosanct home-mortgage tax break, before Bush spells out particulars in his State of the Union address in January. With foreign travel and the holidays eating up the end of this year, his advisers concede that Bush has little chance of getting back his mojo before then.

Bush plans to make post-Thanksgiving trips to the Southwest to talk up border security. His aides hope to set the stage for legislation that would both crack down on illegal entry, which appeals to conservatives, and make it easier for undocumented people to become guest workers, which tends to appeal to Hispanic voters. G.O.P. House members who fear that Bush's guest-worker plan could tear the party apart say Administration officials have recently assured them that the White House would support a separate border-security bill first rather than insist on a linked package. Doing so could make it harder for Bush to later get the guest-worker program, which he once thought would give substance to his rhetoric of compassion. That is one of the many ways that Bush, who has always talked about the presidency as a vehicle for doing great things, may have to make concessions to what he once derisively called small ball.

"A President who loves to hit home runs and wants to be remembered for swinging for the fences is being forced to take base hits," says a former White House official. Since 1999 Bush and Rove have imagined engineering a decades-long G.O.P. majority in America. But Republicans fret these days about losing the House or Senate in next year's midterm elections. So if Rove does head out, he may leave behind a wounded President who faces the prospect of having to abandon some of the pair's Texas-size dreams.


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