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Press Secretary McClellan Leaving White House

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary who has spoken for President Bush for the past two years and nine months is resigning his job. It's the first high profile change in the White House lineup since Chief of Staff Andrew Card resigned last month. The president announced the resignation this morning, and Don Gonyea joins us now to talk more about the, well, shakeup, really.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Indeed.

MONTAGNE: A beginning of a shakeup, maybe. Start with, when did the word come down, and how--you know, what's happening?

GONYEA: Let's call it part of continuing change at the White House, and change that could really be significant change. They sprung it on us today. And I should say, first off, this isn't a surprise that Scott McClellan has decided that he is stepping down as White House press secretary. When the new Chief of Staff Josh Bolton came in, he said that there would be changes. We knew that some of focus of that change was going to be on improving the White House communication operation. McClellan, of course, is the most visible person in that White House communication operation. And he also of late has seemed, you know, a bit weary, a bit embattled, all of those things. But, as the president was preparing to leave today, get on the helicopter for a trip out of town to Alabama where he's giving a speech on American competitiveness, Scott McClellan was walking with him--an unusual thing.

They stepped up to a microphone that had been set up there, and that's where McClellan first stepped up, made the announcement, followed by very, very encouraging words from the president, who said that he recognizes it's Scott's decision. He says it's going to be hard to replace Scott. The president reminisced of it, looked ahead to what it will be like to reminiscing with Scott someday on somebody's porch in Texas in rocking chairs, looking back to what the president described as the fond memories of the days when Scott was his press secretary.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, this hasn't been a good last few months for the president, and of course, Scott McClellan's job was to speak for him. Did he become something of a lightning rod? I mean, was the situation making it impossible for him to do his job?

GONYEA: There were difficult--almost kind of claustrophobic moments in the pressroom with Scott McClellan. Going back over the course of the past year, year and half or so, you may recall there were very difficult questions placed to him during the investigation into the CIA leak. And during that period last year, McClellan assured the press that he had spoken to Karl Rove and to Scooter Lewis, or Libby, Libby, excuse me.

MONTAGNE: Libby.

GONYEA: And, that he'd...

MONTAGNE: Lewis. Libby Lewis. Right. No, Lewis Libby.

GONYEA: Lewis Libby.

(Soudbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Libby Lewis, we have one, yeah, that...

MONTAGNE: We've got a couple of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Anyway, that he had been assured, and Scott assured to us that they weren't involved. And we now know that Libby has been indicted, and that Karl Rove did talk to reporters, despite what McClellan said, said that he hadn't. So, that was a difficult time. The Harriet Myers nomination was a difficult time for Scott, and recently, it has also been very tough--a lot of tough back and forth, and sense in the press room that McClellan has just, you know, not been able to provide the kind of information, answer the kind of questions that the press wanted answered. Whether or not somebody else will be able to is another question.

MONTAGNE: And no name yet on that.

GONYEA: No, there are names floating around, but again, McClellan and the president indicated that it'll be couple of weeks before we have a new press secretary, so we will probably start getting something concrete, perhaps even as early as today.

MONTAGNE: Well, thanks very much.

GONYEA: All right, my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: White House correspondent Don Gonyea, talking about the departure from the White House of the official spokesperson, Scott McClellan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.