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Portman to Guide Bush's Budget Plans

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There's been a good deal of talk about a shake-up at the White House but so far the changes in the administration's lineup have been pretty small. To date, the president picked trade representative Rob Portman as his new budget director. Portman takes the job vacated by the new Chief of Staff, Joshua Bolten. Replacing Portman as the nation's top trade negotiator will be his deputy, Susan Schwab. Chief of Staff Bolten is said to be considering more personnel moves among top staff, but today, the most talked about member of the administration, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, got another endorsement from the president.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Change is in the air at the White House with each new day bringing new speculation about the fate of cabinet members and top presidential aides. Today, however, there were no big surprises. The president used a rose garden event to nominate former Ohio Congressman, long-time Bush ally and current U.S. trade rep, Rob Portman, as director of the office of management and budget.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: As director of O&B, Rob will have a leading role on my economic team. He will be part of a daily senior staff meetings led by Josh Bolten.

GONYEA: In his new job, Portman will also play a role in trying to smooth, what has been at times, a difficult relationship with Republicans in Congress.

Mr. ROB PORTMAN (Director, Office of Management and Budget): I'm particularly happy in this new position, I'll continue to work closely with my former colleagues in Congress whose feedback, collaboration and friendship I highly value.

GONYEA: Portman said the president's economic policies have led to a growing U.S. economy and he said tax cuts enacted in the first term should be made permanent. His appointment, which still needs Senate approval, is being praised by Republicans, but Democrats used the occasion to point out the record deficits accrued since Mr. Bush took office and to predict Portman won't be turning that around.

After introducing Portman and the new trade rep who replaces him, Susan Schwab, the president said he'd take a couple of questions. The focus quickly turned to the possibility of more changes among senior staff. Mr. Bush was asked if Bolten will be seeking resignations. The president, while not denying that more change is coming, dismissed such talk as speculation over a game of musical chairs.

President BUSH: But I also understand what happens in Washington, you know, little flicker of gossip starts moving hard and people jump all over it. Now, the thing the American people got to know is we'll structure this White House so that it continues to function to deal with major problems.

GONYEA: When pressed, the president's patience seemed strained.

Unidentified Reporter: (unintelligible)

President BUSH: You don't understand why. Because we've got people's reputations at stake. And on Friday, I stood up and said I don't appreciate the speculation about Don Rumsfeld. He's doing a fine job. I strongly support him.

GONYEA: It was the president who brought up Rumsfeld's name, seeming to look for an opportunity to put to rest talk that Rumsfeld should go.

President BUSH: I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider and I decide what is best and what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense. I want to thank you all very much.

GONYEA: With that, the president brought a quick end to the brief question and answer session, if not to the speculation.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.