President Bush calls it a ”great Washington sport,” the speculation about who will be in his second-term Cabinet, but even he says there will be new faces sitting around the polished mahogany table in the West Wing.
The first to be replaced could be Attorney General John Ashcroft, who might leave even before the second term begins, senior aides said Thursday. Others expected to leave — although maybe not immediately — include Secretary of State Colin Powell; Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson; and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
”In the Cabinet, there will be some changes,” said Bush, who says he’s made no decisions yet and will ponder personnel changes this weekend at Camp David. ”I don’t know who they will be. It’s inevitable there will be changes.”
Ashcroft, 62, is described as exhausted from leading the Justice Department in fighting the domestic war on terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks. Stress was a factor in Ashcroft’s health problems earlier this year, which resulted in removal of his gallbladder.
Names floated as a replacement include Ashcroft’s former deputy, Larry Thompson, who would be the first black attorney general; Republican Party Chairman Marc Racicot, and White House general counsel Alberto Gonzales.
Bush held the 27th Cabinet meeting of his presidency Thursday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to be the first out the door, but he recently signaled he might stay a while if Bush asked. Possible Powell replacements include John Danforth, a former senator (R-Mo.) who is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from Georgia who once headed the Armed Services Committee, and John Bolton, undersecretary of state.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has talked about returning to academic life in California, has also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Powell. She has told associates that she won’t be at the same post in a second term, but she’s close to Bush, and he might persuade her to stay on, possibly at State or Defense.
If she leaves, her shoes might be filled by Steve Hadley, deputy national security adviser, or Robert Blackwill, the National Security Council’s point man on Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has not offered clues about his future, but Rumsfeld aides say they expect him to remain in the job for the start of Bush’s second term. Aides to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz say he is likely to leave his job and that he might be interested in taking Rice’s place.
Other contenders for the top Pentagon job are Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), Rice, and John Lehman, a former Navy secretary and a Republican member of the Sept. 11 Commission.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has told colleagues he’ll probably leave because of his personal finances and job stresses. For now, though, a Ridge aide said the secretary is focused on his job.