WASHINGTON – President Bush will begin his second term with a Cabinet shake-up that will replace his top advisers.
The president said Thursday he plans to spend the weekend at his presidential retreat in Camp David, Md., to begin putting together a new Cabinet and White House staff.
“We’ll let you know at the appropriate time when decisions have been made,” he told reporters.
Bush is likely to give top priority to his “inner Cabinet.” His first nominations may be for the jobs of defense secretary, secretary of state and attorney general.
According to tradition, all Cabinet members and administration officials in top White House jobs must turn in their resignations by the end of the year.
Attorney General John Ashcroft’s resignation may be one of the first that Bush accepts. Ashcroft has had one of the most stressful jobs in the administration and has had health problems this year, including the removal of his gall bladder.
Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Bush may want to make history by replacing Ashcroft with Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general, or White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.
Thompson would be the first black attorney general and Gonzales would be the first Hispanic in the position.
Bush sought diversity in his first Cabinet, but he may not consider that as important as a lame-duck president, said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a professor of presidential politics at Gettysburg College.
“Second-term Cabinets tend to be much less diverse because presidents don’t have to make a statement about anything,” Warshaw said. “This is the time to reward friends.”
Other early departures are expected to be Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Hess said it’s possible Rumsfeld won’t leave his job right away to avoid the appearance he was forced out by criticism of how he handled the war in Iraq. Ultimately, Rumsfeld could be replaced by former Missouri Sen. John Danforth, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Hess said.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice could be in line to replace either Powell or Rumsfeld.
Rice, who is on leave as a regent at Stanford University, has said she wants to return to the academic world, but it’s unlikely she would turn down the top job at the State Department or the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, Rice’s current job could be offered to Paul Wolfowitz, now the second-highest ranking official at the Pentagon and a major proponent of the Iraq invasion.
Bush also might nominate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for the top job at the Pentagon, but McCain’s status as an outspoken maverick may hurt his chances.
Warshaw noted that McCain wouldn’t be able to follow his own agenda as a Cabinet member.
Another Republican senator, Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might be tapped to run the State Department.
Treasury Secretary John Snow probably will remain where he is.
But Bush likely will replace Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Education Secretary Rod Paige and even Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge.
“Most of the major players will leave, that’s the norm,” said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.
The exception could be Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who could move to a higher-profile job in the second Bush administration.
“He’s likely to have any job he wants,” Sabato said.
Sabato said former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who won praise for his response to the Sept. 11 attacks, could be tapped to replace either Ridge or Ashcroft.