WASHINGTON – As George W. Bush underwent a seven-year metamorphosis from neophyte gubernatorial candidate to president, and then through the six years, four months and 12 days of his White House tenure, Dan Bartlett was always at his side.
On Friday, Bartlett announced that he is heading out the door.
His departure leaves only political adviser Karl Rove among the ranks of Texans who arrived in Washington, D.C., with Bush and still work closely with him in the White House West Wing. And the aide’s decision underscores the growing challenge the president will face fending off lame-duck status for the rest of his administration.
Bartlett’s title is counselor to the president. His role and responsibilities have ranged across a swath of the White House’s operations; he has had a hand in developing policy, analyzing the political implications of various decisions and directing how these moves would be conveyed to the public.
Bartlett, 36, has three sons – twins, who are nearly 4, and a 4 1/2-month-old. On Friday, he said he decided it was time to stop heading for the office at 6 a.m. and not returning home until at least 14 hours later.
“I’ve had competing families,” Bartlett told reporters. “And unfortunately, the Bush family has prevailed too many times, and it’s high time for the Bartlett family to finally prevail.”
He said he plans to leave by July 4.
There has been a steady turnover within the White House in recent months, and Bartlett predicted that others would be making similar moves “over the course of the summer.”
The pattern is typical for two-term administrations in modern times: Many of the people who have invested years working for a president look to make a move into more lucrative, and less time-consuming, private-sector jobs before their cachet as Washington insiders has evaporated.
For Bush, that means replacing trusted aides as he wrestles with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a litany of disputes with the Democrat-controlled Congress and the growing shadow of the campaign to replace him.
This week, he responded with a flurry of efforts to shape the policy debate. These included promoting new initiatives or funding plans aimed at combating global warming, AIDS and the violence in Sudan, as well as intensifying his push for a sweeping overhaul of immigration law.
Bartlett’s departure will leave an especially large hole for Bush to fill.
People who have worked with him in the West Wing said that Bartlett, especially in recent years, served as something of a counterweight to Rove, often providing alternative views from those offered by the architect of Bush’s political career.
Bartlett also has had more personal ties with Bush – the president usually turned to him when he wants to talk Texas sports.