WASHINGTON – President Bush is paying a bedside visit to soldiers wounded in Iraq as American forces suffered the highest one-day U.S. death toll in more than six months amid fierce battles for control of Fallujah (search).
A week after the election that gave him a second term, Bush was turning from personnel decisions for his Cabinet and staff to go to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center (search), accompanied by his wife, Laura. Bush was to see between 50 to 55 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. On his last visit in March, the president awarded Purple Hearts to eight soldiers.
The U.S. toll in Iraq has surpassed 1,100, and 11 Americans died on Monday alone. Three more were killed Tuesday in Fallujah. "We are forever grateful to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "They are serving for an important cause and a free Iraq will help transform a dangerous region of the world and make America more secure. We mourn the loss of all of our fallen."
Bush reviewed developments in Iraq in a meeting Monday with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The secretary later would not say whether he wants to continue in his job in Bush's second term and said the matter hasn't been discussed in postelection meetings.
Rumsfeld aides said they expect him to remain for the start of Bush's new term, although whether he aims to stay the full four years is unclear. Other possibilities for the top Pentagon job include Sen. John Warner, R-Va.; national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has told associates she plans to resign; and John Lehman, a former Navy secretary and Republican member of the Sept. 11 commission.
In the only major decision announced for Bush's second term, the president will keep Andy Card as White House chief of staff. An unflappable veteran of the Reagan and first Bush presidencies, Card is admired for his work ethic, steady hand and open-door policy.
Keeping Card aboard is "a real pin strike for the president," said Nick Calio, Bush's former liaison to Capitol Hill. "He is a very, very solid leader; he is one of the most capable people I have ever met or worked for in my entire life; and he manages without ego and solely on behalf of the president," Calio said.
Another former staff adviser, Jay Lefkowitz, said Card "makes sure the president gets perspective from all relevant people on staff on any particular issue."
"The Chief," as Card is known at the White House, was appointed four years ago this month, even before the 2000 recount was resolved. He told The Associated Press in a February 2001 interview that he normally arrived at work at 5:30 a.m. and stayed until the president had retired for the night. Aides say Card, 57, continues that schedule nearly four years later.
"There's a certain comfort walking into the West Wing when it's still dark out, and seeing the light in Andy's office on," said Adam Levine, a former assistant White House press secretary.