McClellan Departure Not ‘Forced,’ Some White House Scribes Say

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By: Joe Strupp

White House reporters, interviewed by E&P today, say Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s resignation today is not a surprise, adding that he likely chose to leave on his own and perhaps just tired of the difficult job after nearly three years in a sometimes harsh spotlight.

Several scribes noted that President Bush would have little reason to request McClellan’s departure, given that he took the media’s heat well, did not provide any serious gaffes, and stuck to the administration’s message of the day. One reporter did express uncertainty about whether McClellan was pushed out.

Later, writing on the Time magazine Web site, Michael Allen asserted, “McClellan did not want to go. Although he had talked to colleagues sporadically about departing as long as a year ago, he had planned to stay until after the midterm election. Friends said he had gotten the internal signal and wanted to get it over with, to short-circuit the craziness of having to refuse to speculate about himself from the podium.”

None of those who spoke with E&P would speculate on who McClellan’s replacement might be, other than to repeat the speculation about Fox News’ Tony Snow. Elisabeth Bumiller then wrote for the Times’ online site that other “potential successors who have been mentioned by Republicans” include Rob Nichols, the former Treasury spokesman, and Victoria Clarke, the former Pentagon spokeswoman.

“I have viewed Scott all along as someone who did precisely what the administration wanted him to do — tow the line, stick to the message and attempt to make no news,” said Chicago Tribune White House reporter Mark Silva. “This was infuriating to reporters who felt like they were never getting questions answered–but he served the White House with a real measure of calm and unflappability.”

McClellan, who has toiled in the top spokesman role since replacing Ari Fleischer in June 2003, probably had sought a change in his job, reporters said. “I suspect he left on his own, it is a long time to do the job,” Silva said. “He’s got a wife, and two more years is a long time for anyone.”

Knight Ridder reporter William Douglas, who has covered Bush for three years and previously covered Bill Clinton’s second term, agreed. “No one lasts in that job forever, I don’t think he was pushed,” said Douglas. “He has had a rough couple of years, between the Libby and Rove stuff. I didn’t envision him doing a full four. He has had a lot to answer to. That job wears you down no matter who you are.”

Douglas added that the recent administration shake-ups, which included the departure of Chief of Staff Andrew Card and other top officials, almost made McClellan’s departure a foregone conclusion. “We heard rumblings that he might leave, but no rumblings of being pushed out,” Douglas said.

Steve Scully, political editor for C-SPAN and incoming president of the White House Correspondents Association, said “I think there was a lot of politics involved, but he probably wanted to leave on his own terms.”

Elizabeth Bumiller, who covers Bush for The New York Times, also saw a change coming. “He has hinted for a long time that he might move on, it’s been three years,” she said. When asked if he was pushed out, she said “it doesn’t seem like it, but I don’t know. I can’t tell.”

Bumiller also described his performance as “helpful one on one, and fair and good natured.”

Peter Baker, White House correspondent for The Washington Post, said he would miss McClellan on a personal level, saying “I have a lot of respect for Scott, he had a very hard job and did what they wanted him to do.” On a professional level, though, he said, “I hope his replacement will be allowed to work with us.”

Baker went on to say that a change in the press secretary position will not mean much if the next person operates the same way, “as a public face of a White House that doesn’t like to communicate with the press. Will the [next] person have a real mission? Other press secretaries have had more of a mission to work with the press, but that is not how this president operates.”

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