Dee Dee Myers finds room for ambition in shuffle

DEE DEE MYERS, the first woman to be press secretary to a US president, has gained new power and authority in a long-delayed shake-up yesterday of White House staff.

But her unexpected victory, thanks to an eleventh-hour personal plea to President Bill Clinton, has only reinforced his reputation for procrastination and indecision. It also undermines the position of Leon Panetta, the man Mr Clinton made his new Chief of Staff just three months ago to bring order to a White House where indiscipline sometimes verges on chaos.

From the moment Mr Panetta replaced Thomas 'Mack' McClarty last June - Mr Clinton's boyhood friend from Arkansas - he made it clear that he intended to overhaul the workings of the White House: first and foremost was the press section where he wanted to bring in Michael McCurry, currently the highly-esteemed chief spokesman of the State Department, to take over from Ms Myers.

As late as Thursday afternoon, Mr Panetta seemed sure to have his way. But in a private meeting that night in the Oval Office, the 33-year-old Ms Myers, one of the few members of the Clinton campaign team still on his staff, appears to have persuaded the President to keep her on, and, in the process, overrule his Chief of Staff.

Although widely liked in personal terms, Ms Myers had been regarded as lightweight, partly because of her youth, but above all because she has only limited access to the President and his most senior advisers. In the foreign-policy field, the deficiencies were especially glaring. Theoretically at least, that should now change.

Ms Myers emerges with a promotion to the rank of 'assistant to the President', increased access, a pay rise, and - not least important in a cramped building where space equals status - the much larger office traditionally occupied by past press secretaries. For Mr Panetta, the outcome must be a disappointment.

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