“She could be an ambassador to an environmentally delicate Third World nation, or just back in Jersey,” says an EPA staffer hired under the Clinton Administration who cattily adds, “I doubt she’d know the difference.”
But a Whitman staffer says the boss lady isn’t going anywhere, at least unless she’s pushed. “She’s given us no indication that people in the White House are unhappy with her performance. We haven’t heard anything, but she serves at the pleasure of the president, so anything can happen.”
If Whitman is the first first-term top-level administration aide to go, it will probably happen in the next six weeks. Whitman was roundly criticized the other week for new EPA rules easing the compliance requirements of large companies installing new environmentally friendly equipment. But lost in the furor was the fact that the White House backed the initiative and Whitman served as the loyal trooper and took the brunt of the environmental lobby’s anger.
“She takes a lot of heat over there and handles it well,” says a White House political source. “We can’t complain about the job she’s done. She’s been a good soldier.”
But even a good soldier can only take so many bullets, which may be why Whitman, through a press leak, said recently she’d like her agency permanently elevated to Cabinet level. Depending on how one looks at that floated, if Whitman gets her wish, she’ll be a happy camper. If she doesn’t get it, she can rightly leave and save face. “With Homeland Security coming in at Cabinet level, there is no way she gets her wish,” says the White House source.
Had things been a bit different on Capitol Hill, though, things could have been different with Whitman. Six months ago, the Bush White House was actually open to giving the likes of Democrats Henry Waxman and Barbara Boxer their dream of seeing the EPA elevated to cabinet-level status in return for passage of the Homeland Security legislation. But now that Republicans control everything, all such deals are off.
A more realistic exit is Lawrence Lindsey, who heads the White House National Economic Council. Word out of the White House is that Lindsey will probably exit after the New Year. The Bushies are said to want a more public face for the council.
Still up for debate is the exit — or not — of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. “We thought he’d be fed up by now with the job,” says the White House staffer. “But he seems to be enjoying it and the press has overblown the troubles they have had over there at Treasury. If he leaves in the next month or so it’s because he wants to go, not because we want him to.”p>
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