Aug. 13, 2007 -- Struggling politically, with no love lost for him from Capitol Hill, White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove announced Monday that he will leave the Bush administration by the end of the month. The man called "Bush's brain" by Texas reporters said he would transplant himself back to Texas "for the sake of my family."
Near tears, Rove said that he was "grateful to have been a witness to history. It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime."
Standing with President George W. Bush in front of White House reporters, he told the president that "at month's end, I will join those whom you meet in your travels, the ordinary Americans who tell you they are praying for you."
The president said, "We've been friends for a long time, and we're still going to be friends."
The president has many nicknames for the chief strategist of his gubernatorial and presidential victories, including "The Architect" and "Boy Genius," as well as "Turd Blossom," a joking nod to Rove's successes in light of his humble beginnings.
Notably, few Republican presidential candidates or congressional leaders had much to say about Rove's departure.
The silence was telling in terms of how much the White House hopefuls resent how much their hopes are being complicated by the unpopular Bush administration, and how chilly relations have grown on Capitol Hill.
Congressional Republicans have long felt that the Bush administration never really "got" the Hill, and Rove especially never understood how to deal with members of Congress. He was rude to them, some said.
"For awhile, there he was, king of the Hill, and he shoved your face in it," a GOP official said. "He also had an enemies list as long as the New York phone book."
Asked on CNN's "American Morning" if he would welcome Rove to his campaign, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's first response was, "I would welcome anybody to my campaign at this point." And House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement only upon request, offering that "I'm sure he and his family are looking forward to spending some well-deserved time together in Texas."
Democrats were not so laconic.
'I'm Moby Dick'
In statements, congressional Democrats assailed Rove — "architect of a political strategy that has left the country more divided," in the words of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. — with some implying that his leaving is tied to the bicameral congressional hearings about the controversy involving the fired U.S. attorneys.
"Earlier this month, Karl Rove failed to comply with the Judiciary Committee's subpoena to testify about the mass firings of United States attorneys," said Judiciary chairman Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt. "Despite evidence that he played a central role in these firings, just as he did in the Libby case — involving the outing of an undercover CIA agent, and improper political briefings at over 20 government agencies — Mr. Rove acted as if he was above the law. That is wrong."
Leahy also said, dramatically, that the "list of senior White House and Justice Department officials who have resigned during the course of these congressional investigations, continues to grow, and today, Mr. Rove added his name to that list. There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House."
But, Rove insisted today that any ongoing investigations had nothing to do with his departure.
"It's not figured in my decision, no," Rove said, adding that he's "realistic enough to understand that the subpoenas are going to keep flying my way. I'm Moby Dick, and we've got three or four members of Congress who are trying to cast themselves in the part of Captain Ahab — so, they're going to keep coming."
'I Need to Make Some Money'
Karen Hughes — who, with Rove and Joe Allbaugh, the departed Federal Emergency Management Agency director-turned-lobbyist, constituted Bush's "Iron Triangle" of advisers in their early White House days — told reporters that she choked up when calling Rove this morning.
"I thought about what a huge impact he's had on the president's life and career, and on my own life and career," Hughes said.
Hughes, the current Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, said that her friend Rove, and the media caricature of Rove "are two very different things."
She said, "Karl is definitely constant motion and action and booming voice and presence and a funny, witty voice and presence. Always upbeat. I don't recall ever seeing him down." She added that he was the "Energizer Bunny of the West Wing."
Rove said he had "no idea" as to what he will do next. "I'd like to teach, eventually," he told reporters, "but in the meantime, I need to make some money."
Rove, who never graduated from college, joked that he has "an employment record that I think would be attractive to any employer. I've worked in an industrial kitchen in a hospital; I've waited tables; I've worked in convenience stores and have been robbed at the point of a gun twice; I've pumped gas; I've babysat; I've cut lawns; I've delivered newspapers."
He added seriously that "the president has encouraged me to write a book. I will do a book."
34 Victories in 41 Races
Rove first entered the world of Bush's rough and tumble politics in 1973, during a hotly-disputed race to be national chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
Rove and another College Republican official — soon to be legendary southern strategist Lee Atwater — campaigned across the country, and Rove and allies at state conventions challenged delegate credentials, leading to a contested election.
Then-Republican National Committee chairman George H.W. Bush ultimately sided with Rove. Later that year, the RNC chairman asked Rove to deliver a set of car keys to his oldest son, George W. Rove was immediately taken with his new friend.
As Jimmy Carter was being inaugurated in January 1977, Rove moved to Texas to raise money for the older Bush's exploration committee for 1980. In his new home state, Rove became one of the most successful political strategists of the modern era. An estimate from The Atlantic magazine assesses that Rove's candidates were victorious in 34 of the 41 statewide, congressional, and national races for which he served as primary strategist.
One of the few losing races was for then-congressional candidate George W. Bush in 1978. In 1992, because of suspicions that he had leaked to conservative columnist Robert Novak, negative information about then-President George H.W. Bush's 1992 presidential re-election campaign fundraising director, Rove was fired from the campaign.
But the next year, George W. Bush brought Rove in to manage his gubernatorial campaign. Things worked out a bit better in that race, with Bush defeating incumbent Gov. Ann Richards. Merely six years later, after yet another hotly-contested election, Rove and Bush had reached the White House.
That race was not without Rove-related controversies, particularly during an ugly, personal campaign waged by Bush and his allies against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during the South Carolina primary. But, ultimately, after the chad were counted and the last Supreme Court justice went home, Rove and his boss moved to Washington, D.C.
Reforms and Rebuffs
The early White House years brought some remarkable and historic legislative achievements, among them, passage of tax cuts, bipartisan education reform, and an immense new government entitlement program providing a Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors.
Largely due to confidence in the president's leadership after 9/11, the Republican party picked up congressional seats in the 2002 mid-terms for the first time in decades, and despite significant hurdles, the president cruised to a re-election victory in 2004.
But, after a poor government response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, the White House was seen by even Republican voters and independents as out-of-touch and incompetent. In 2006, despite characteristic Rove bluster that the GOP would win the mid-term elections, the House and Senate turned Democratic for the first time in twelve years.
Having already been asked to testify five times before a federal grand jury about his role in the leaking to columnist Novak of the name of a CIA operative whose husband was critical of the president, Rove was subpoenaed to come before Democratic-run House and Senate Judiciary committees to explain his role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
Rove leaves the White House with the president nearing historically low approval ratings.
"We're in the midst of an unpopular war, and he's been hammered by the Democrats," Rove explained. "But, I would point out to you, the Democrat Congress is less popular than the president, and they got there a heck of a lot quicker. As the war in Iraq — as it's clear to the American people that the surge is working, the president's popularity will rise."
Rove also leaves having failed with Social Security and immigration reforms, the president's two major hopes for legislative accomplishments. Rove said today they're "winning some of those battles. There's a robust set of issues that we're dealing with. And, again, I'd love to be around for them. In a way, I'll be kibitzing from the outside — he knows my phone number and I know his."