White House chief-of-staff quits as Bush's approval ratings dive

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The Independent US

President George Bush has finally bowed to poor approval ratings and ongoing criticism from Republicans by replacing his long-serving chief-of-staff - one of the most senior members of his administration and a stalwart supporter.

After weeks of criticism from members of his own party calling for the President to shake up his administration and kick-start his stalled agenda, Mr Bush said yesterday he was accepting the resignation of Andrew Card. But rather than introducing new blood, Mr Bush said Mr Card's position would be filled by the administration's budget director, Josh Bolten.

The move represents at best a compromise between Mr Bush, famously loyal to his aides, and Republicans on Capitol Hill who believe that the President's second term has run aground in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its self-created problem of Iraq.

Hovering in the mid-30s, Mr Bush's approval rating is the lowest for a second-term presidency since the days of Richard Nixon. Unlike four years ago, when Republicans in the November 2002 Congressional elections rode the President's tails to victory, senior party figures are now concerned his low ratings will undermine candidates contesting this autumn's elections.

While Mr Card has a low public profile, ordinary Americans remember him as the man who spoke into the President's ear on the morning of 11 September 2001, informing him of the terror attacks on New York as Mr Bush sat listening to children read at the Emma T Booker primary school in Florida.

Mr Bush said: "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."

A teary-eyed Mr Card said he looked forward to simply being Mr Bush's friend and added: "You're a good man, Mr President."

Described as a numbers man and known for his love of motorcycles, Mr Bolten, 51, will receive a two-week crash course from Mr Card before taking on one of the most demanding and exhausting jobs in the administration. Mr Card routinely arrives at his office in the West Wing of the White House at 5.30am and often does not leave until 10pm.

Mr Card had been hoping to secure the record as the longest-serving White House chief-of-staff. Now he will not have the opportunity to beat either James Steelman, who was President Harry Truman's chief-of-staff and served for six years, or Sherman Adams, Dwight Eisenhower's top aide, who served for five years and nine months.

The minor shake-up leaves in place the President's most influential official, his senior policy advisor, Karl Rove, as well as all the cabinet members such as the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has twice offered his resignation only for Mr Bush to turn it down. Certainly, many Republicans had been hoping Mr Bush would do much more to inject new ideas and personalities into his inner circle. Two weeks ago, James Baker, the chief-of-staff to Ronald Reagan, telephoned the White House and urged it to take on former senator Fred Thompson to jump-start the administration's policy agenda.

There have also been calls for a senior figure to be appointed as a liaison between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill, whose strained relationship was recently evidenced during the dispute over the Dubai ports deal.