GWEN IFILL: For 5 1/2 years, Andrew Card has held what former White House chiefs of staff have called the worst job in Washington. It was Card who, on September 11, 2001, was the first to whisper in President Bush's ear, "America is under attack."
It's also been Card who, away from the spotlight, has been the president's right-hand man during wars, political skirmishes and natural disasters. His long days typically began before sunrise and ended long past sunset.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Andy Card has served me and our country in historic times: on a terrible day when America was attacked; during economic recession and recovery; through storms of unprecedented destructive power; in peace and in war.
Andy has overseen legislative achievements on issues from education to Medicare. He helped confirm two justices to the Supreme Court, including a new chief justice. In all of these challenges and accomplishments, I have relied on Andy's wise counsel, his calm in crisis, his absolute integrity, and his tireless commitment to public service.
GWEN IFILL: As the president's popularity has dropped, rumors of an imminent high-level resignation have increased, but administration officials told reporters today that the decision to step down was Card's alone.
ANDREW CARD, Former White House Chief of Staff: Mr. President, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there are different seasons, and there is a new season. I've watched you comfort Americans, rally the world to meet real needs. I've watched as you've guided us from a recession to economic recovery.
But, most of all, I've watched you as a person. And you're a good man, Mr. President, and you do great things.
GWEN IFILL: The 58-year-old Card, a former Massachusetts state legislator and U.S. transportation secretary, will be replaced by White House Budget Director Josh Bolten.
Bolten, 51, has also previously served as deputy chief of staff at the White House.
JOSH BOLTEN, White House Chief of Staff: Mr. President, the agenda ahead is exciting. You've set a clear course to protect our people at home, to promote freedom abroad, and to expand our prosperity.
I'm grateful for Andy's willingness to stay on for a couple of weeks to help break me in, and then I'm anxious to get to work.
GWEN IFILL: Card's resignation takes effect April 14th.
The White House chief of staff may be the most important man you've never heard of. Does it make a difference who's in the job?
For that, we're joined by John Podesta, who held that title for three years during President Clinton's second term. He's now president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank. And former Republican Congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota, he's now a lobbyist in Washington with close ties to the White House.
GWEN IFILL: Vin Weber, we've been hearing for weeks about the possibility of change, shakeup they call it, at the White House. And I believe Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, a few weeks ago called this inside-the-beltway babble. So was what happened today the shakeup that was long rumored, or is it just an internal promotion?
VIN WEBER: No, I don't think it's a shakeup I think that people that have been calling for big shakeup in this White House, both their critics and their friends, have sort of misunderstood the nature of this president and this administration.
This is a president and an administration who have been, if you will, baptized in fire, both in the Florida recount in 2000 and then very shortly after that in the 9/11 attack, and they have faith and confidence in each other.
This is an orderly transition. Andy Card did a great job for five years, but as John Podesta, I'm sure, will tell you it's a bruising job. And he has every right to move on, and they moved up the logical person.
Everybody that knows this administration says that Josh Bolten is the right guy to move up, and I agree with that.
GWEN IFILL: John Podesta, you did have this job, one of the jobs someone called the worst in Washington. What do you think about today's change of events?
JOHN PODESTA: Well, you know, I commend Mr. Card for being able to do that job for more than five years.
You know, I think the public was looking for the change of direction from this administration. That's what you heard from the political class in Washington, that we needed a change in direction. I don't think they got it today.
I agree with Vin. This is really a message of continuity. You know, the president reached all of the way across the driveway to get a new chief of staff. Mr. Bolten served as the director of Office of Management and Budget.
He had served as Andy Card's deputy, so it's very much a move of continuity, as I think the president likes to do. He feels comfortable with the people very close around him. But I think that there are a lot of people around the country, in the public and in the political class, particularly Republicans, who hope for more.
GWEN IFILL: What's the difference -- continuing with you, John Podesta -- what's the difference between this move of continuity from Andy Card to Josh Bolten -- than from when you took over in the Clinton White House? You also stepped in midstream.
JOHN PODESTA: Well, you know, I had some difficult circumstances. I took over in 1998. But the president's job approval was at 62 percent, and the public really liked the way he was governing the country.
We had a staff that, I think, knew what it was doing. And we were determined to keep the country moving in the direction and course that the president set for it.
So I think my job was a little bit easier than Mr. Bolten's, with coming into a White House where the president's approval ratings are now back down in the 30s. So, you know, it's just a different challenge and a different set of circumstances.
GWEN IFILL: Vin Weber, as you watch your friends at the White House, and, obviously, they are having some struggles in the polling department, do you think that this is the kind of change that signals any kind of turn-around or is it more of the same?
VIN WEBER: Well, there's no question that we're in a very difficult moment, both as a Republican Party and in terms of the Bush administration. But I think you have to take a longer view and say this administration, this White House, has really been quite successful over most of its five years in office.
They've accomplished most of their legislative objectives on taxes and education, on energy policy. They've successfully waged a war on terror and kept us safe from another attack since 9/11.
Yes, we have a lot of very difficult challenges facing us. This is certainly not the best moment for the Republican Party. But, on balance, this team has done well. And I think the president is wise to say, you know, let's make changes where they're required, but let's not throw out wholesale a group that has done very well under very trying circumstances.
GWEN IFILL: Was Andrew Card's move required, in your opinion?
VIN WEBER: No, I don't think it was required, and I am quite confident that, if he had wanted to stay, he could have. I think it's just as he said.
It's a bruising job. He did it for over five years. It was time for him to reclaim his private life. And they had the logical person in the person of Josh Bolten, a brilliant individual, as hard-working a person as I've ever known, and a genuine policy expert.
That's one thing that I guess separates Josh Bolten from Andy Card, is that Josh has always been on the policy side of things in this White House, first on domestic policy advice, and then at the Office of Management and Budget, so he does bring a little different cast to the job of White House chief of staff, but continuity for a team that has by and large succeeded is the word of the day.
GWEN IFILL: John Podesta, what do you know about Josh Bolten?
JOHN PODESTA: Well, I agree with Vin. He is a policy guy. But listening to him -- you know, I think Andy Card was a loyal staff guy to the end. He took the spear for an administration that was in trouble.
But listening to Vin reminds me of another chief of staff. That was John Sununu who served President Bush 41, the president's father, who said we've kind of accomplished everything we need to accomplish, and we just ought to ride to re-election.
And, you know, that proved to be not only, I think, a mistake substantively and politically, but it proved to be a mistake for Mr. Sununu, who was shortly out after that.
GWEN IFILL: He was actually fired by Andrew Card, I believe.
VIN WEBER: That's not what I'm saying.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Weber?
VIN WEBER: I realize we've got some challenges yet to meet. What I'm saying is this team has, over the past five years, met a lot of challenges successfully. John Podesta is right: We face major challenges, particularly succeeding in Iraq. All I'm suggesting is the overall track record of this White House leads me to have confidence that they can meet those challenges, even though we're incurring some rough sledding right now.
JOHN PODESTA: And I think what Mr. Bolten really doesn't add to the mix, actually, is a new voice on Iraq. And I think what -- if you're looking for where the public really wants to see some new signs of new thinking and a new direction, it's really in Iraq, but we have Mr. Rumsfeld still at the Defense Department and, of course, Vice President Cheney in his office.
GWEN IFILL: Is that the chief of staff's job, to work on foreign-policy policy, or is he supposed to be the gatekeeper, the disciplinarian?
JOHN PODESTA: Look, I think the chief of staff has to be the guy who is -- you know, he's sort of an enforcer. He's the guy who has to tell the president when things are bad, deliver the bad news.
He has to be a person who looks at the facts and says, "You know, Mr. President, it's not easy to tell you this, but here's the way it really is." And I think he needs to be able to have a firm hand with the entire cabinet, including the foreign policy members of that cabinet.
GWEN IFILL: Vin Weber, do you agree with that? And if you do, are there other issues that perhaps the chief of staff should be weighing in on?
VIN WEBER: Well, I think that, when he weighs in on policy -- and I think he will to a greater extent than Andy Card did -- it's going to mainly be on the domestic and economic policy side, because that's where he's got the history and the expertise.
I don't think that he, Josh Bolten, is going to drive a change on Iraq policy, first of all, because we think that we have a policy that is going to succeed there and, second, because, if the White House needs to do anything different on Iraq, it is a better job of communicating what its own position is.
And I think that that does need some tooling up. And I think that Josh will probably face that rather squarely. But there's no question that Iraq is a tough sled.
GWEN IFILL: Yes, may I interrupt you to ask you whether you think or have any reason to believe that the White House believes that, as well?
VIN WEBER: Believes what as well?
GWEN IFILL: That it is important to have a fresh voice to handle those kinds of questions?
VIN WEBER: I think that the White House has an appreciation of the fact that they have not always communicated well on this. And when they stop communicating on Iraq, everything else gets worse for them.
So the president is going to have to focus on communicating that message about Iraq, really for the rest of his term in office. And I think that is a major challenge; I think they understand that.
GWEN IFILL: So from the other side of the fence, Mr. Podesta, you don't think that Josh Bolten's elevation is enough or Andrew Card's exit is enough. What is? JOHN PODESTA: Well, I would have probably started by getting rid of Secretary Rumsfeld.
But, you know, look, I think Josh Bolten knows his way around Washington. He's a good inside player. He's a good policy guy. And I think he'll serve the president in that role and do it with honesty and integrity.
But I think, at this point in this administration, if that's all you get, more of the same, with just kind of a strong operating officer there, with a guy, you know, who knows the domestic policy world, I don't think it's going to really work for the president politically.
GWEN IFILL: And very briefly to both of you, quickly to Mr. Weber first, do you think that this today is a better day overall, given all the challenges the president has had to face than yesterday?
VIN WEBER: Sure. I think we have a lot of challenges in front of us, but I think we've got an excellent person who's going to take over from Andy Card and Josh Bolten, and I have a lot of confidence.
And anybody who takes over a job newly is going to have a renewed sense of energy about approaching that job, so I feel good about it, but I felt good about Andy Card, too.
GWEN IFILL: OK, Mr. Podesta?
JOHN PODESTA: Well, you know, I think the right model probably was President Reagan after Iran-Contra, when he decided that Don Regan wasn't servicing him well and brought in Howard Baker.
It really changed the tone of the White House. It changed the whole approach of the White House to the Congress. And President Reagan was able to leave the presidency on an up-note. I think this is really just a little bit more of the same.
GWEN IFILL: John Podesta, Vin Weber, thank you both very much.