WASHINGTON – President Bush's spokesman defended the White House staff Wednesday as "a smart, capable and experienced team" despite rising complaints from Republicans about administration mistakes and GOP calls for a shakeup.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said he was "tired of some of the questions" about whether Bush is going to replace some of his senior advisers. "The president has a great team and he appreciates the job that they're doing," McClellan said.
Republicans are nervous about Bush's plummeting approval ratings and a string of White House woes, from the administration's fumbled handling of Hurricane Katrina and an uproar over a secret eavesdropping program to unhappiness about Iraq, the now-abandoned Dubai Ports World deal, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and Bush's failure to achieve the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, an overhaul of Social Security.
The GOP concern is heightened by anxiety over the midterm congressional elections in November.
Senior Republicans have fretted for months that Bush's team is exhausted and has run out of fresh ideas after more than five years on the job with little change in his inner circle. At a Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis, Tenn., last week, some delegates said they were shaken by the White House's performance and suggested Bush may need a new team.
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota added momentum to shakeup rumors by publicly voicing his concerns in an Associated Press interview.
"I have some concerns about the team that's around the president," said Coleman, who has close ties to Bush. "I think you need to take a look at it."
"All of a sudden we're hearing the phrase 'tin ear,"' Coleman said. "That's a phrase you shouldn't hear. The fact that you're hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear-to-the-ground that you need in the White House, isn't there at the level that it needs to be."
Bush's job approval has dipped back to 37 percent, his lowest rating in the AP-Ipsos Poll. Nearly 70 percent of people say the U.S. is on the wrong track, a 6-point jump since February. Bush's job approval among Republicans plummeted from 82 percent in February to 74 percent, a troubling sign for the White House in an election year.
McClellan bristled at questions about a shakeup.
"The president has a smart, capable and experienced team that is fully committed to helping him advance his agenda and get things done for the American people," the spokesman said, noting that Bush was devoting part of his day to talking about health care and prescription drug benefits for seniors.
When questions persisted, McClellan said, "You know, it's interesting, here's now the third question on this, when I just talked about some very important priorities that the American people care about, and here we are asking these questions."
"This is part of the inside Washington babble that goes on in this town," McClellan said. "This is part of the parlor game."