President Bush’s choice of U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman to replace Josh Bolten as Budget Director showed a surprising willingness on the President’s part to transcend his own personal inner circle.
Portman is admittedly close to the President, but he is not part of "Team Texas." The early rumors suggested a replacement from Texas, likely from Bolten’s former deputies.
Portman, on the other hand, is an experienced legislator (former vice chairman of the House Budget Committee) whose relationship with Congress is even warmer than Bolten’s. He was a skilled deal-maker as a legislator and well respected by both parties on the Hill. He was key to the narrow passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement last year despite almost universal Democratic opposition.
The Bush Administration has suffered generally speaking from its poor relations with Congress — especially with congressional Republicans.
The fear on Capitol Hill had been that OMB Deputy Director and Texas insider Clay Johnson would get the job, as part of a trend in the administration that has brought third-level aides to top positions through internal promotion. Portman’s rise is therefore a relief.
The feeling on Capitol Hill is that Portman’s promotion and the exit of Chief of Staff Andy Card are hints that someone has recognized what most ails the administration and wants to correct it. Bolten’s announcement of a staff shakeup in the White House could lead to further improvements.
Portman’s deputy, Susan Schwab, will take over as USTR.
Sign up to get the rest of Robert Novak’s weekly political report by e-mail:
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter