WASHINGTON – Ed Gillespie, a high-dollar Washington lobbyist and long-time go-to guy for President Bush and the Republican Party, is replacing Dan Bartlett as White House counselor in the president's inner circle.
"He's a seasoned hand. He's got excellent judgment. He's a strategic thinker. And I know he'll do a fine job," Bush said after having lunch with Gillespie and Bartlett. Gillespie sat — fittingly — on Bush's right hand in the Oval Office, with the man he is replacing on the couch near them.
Gillespie, a former head of the national GOP, will take on Bartlett's same duties and title as a senior presidential adviser. He starts June 27, in order to have some overlap with Bartlett, who is leaving around July 4.
Bartlett, 36, has been one of Bush's most trusted advisers, a near-constant presence at Bush's side and his longest-serving aide. Bartlett has been with Bush for nearly 14 years, from his first campaign as governor of Texas, through two races for the White House and more than six years of a presidency marked by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an ongoing battle against terrorism.
With three children under the age of 4, including twins, he announced his resignation on June 1 to begin a career outside of government.
Bush said he understood, but will miss the adviser and friend whom he has known since "gosh — 1993."
"I never thought I'd be able to find somebody to possibly do as good a job as he's done," the president said of Bartlett.
As communications director and then from the broader perch of counselor to the president, Bartlett has been at the center of White House decisionmaking. He stepped into the public eye particularly in times of trouble, defending Bush on everything from the unpopular war in Iraq to the government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and the Republicans' loss of Congress.
Gillespie has been a high-profile Washington lobbyist for years, joining forces with former Clinton administration counsel Jack Quinn to form Quinn Gillespie & Associates. He also is now the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party.
Gillespie was listed as lobbyist last year for dozens of clients, including such corporate giants as Microsoft, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, Tyson Foods, the Safeway grocery store chain, the Entergy energy company, the Bank of America, the Diageo liquor company and NBC Universal, lobbying reports on file with the Senate show.
As a former Republican National Committee chairman whom the president has long trusted, Gillespie's name has surfaced nearly every time there was a significant opening looming in the Bush White House. When it seemed political guru Karl Rove might be forced out because of the CIA leak investigation, for instance, Gillespie was speculated to be one choice as a possible replacement. Same for when former chief of staff Andrew Card was leaving.
Gillespie, funny and well-liked by reporters, has played many roles for Bush, in addition to leading the party during the 2004 elections that sent Bush back to the White House and retained GOP majorities in the House and Senate.
He was a senior communications adviser to Bush's first campaign for president, spokesman during the 2000 recount in Florida and communications director for the 2001 inaugural. He was tapped to guide Samuel Alito through his confirmation to the Supreme Court, after doing the same for former White House counsel Harriet Miers. She eventually withdrew her nomination after a conservative revolt.
Gillespie started on Capitol Hill parking cars. He made his name as a top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. In that job, he was a principal drafter of the "Contract with America," the 1994 GOP platform that gets credit for helping Republicans capture control of Congress that year after 40 years of Democratic rule.
After he left the Hill and became a lobbyist, he held a yearly "flak bash" for Republican press secretaries. The person who had been most under fire that year received a flak jacket at the party for their efforts.
Gillespie was a campaign adviser to Sen. George Allen's failed re-election bid in Virginia last year. In the win column, he was a strategist for Elizabeth Dole's successful Senate campaign in North Carolina in 2002.
Rumored ambitions to run for office in Virgina now will have to be put on hold.
The son of a large middle-class Irish family in New Jersey — his father owned a bar — Gillespie and his wife, Cathy, have three children.