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Banning 'the Next Karl Rove'?

During his nearly seven years on the White House staff, Karl Rove became famous (and to his critics, infamous) as a supposed political puppet-master, influencing everything from the legislative agenda to candidate recruitment in order to extend and expand Republican power across the land. But if one key congressional Democrat has his way, Rove could be the last of his kind.

In an interview published today in The Hill, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) broaches the possibility of pushing a bill that would prohibit future administrations from putting aides with explicitly political responsibilities on the White House staff.

"Why should we be using taxpayer dollars to have a person solely in charge of politics in the White House?" Waxman told The Hill. "Can you imagine the reaction if each member of Congress had a campaign person paid for with taxpayer dollars?"

Rove held a variety of positions in the White House, most recently as deputy chief of staff. Presumably, Waxman is thinking of Rove's earlier tenure as the head of the Office of Political Affairs when he muses about cracking down on such behavior in the future. The Californian's committee has spent a lot of time investigating the use of official email accounts by the Bush administration to send political messages, and the use of Republican National Committee accounts to send messages about official government business. Waxman has also probed allegations that a Rove deputy gave a briefing to officials at the General Services Administration about key congressional races this cycle.

Waxman complains that members of Congress and their staffs have to follow strict rules about doing political work using official time and resources, while White House aides operate under much looser restrictions. Of course, Hill aides take actions every day that are designed to help members win reelection. They push politically popular bills, send out press releases to make their bosses look good and meet with key constituent groups to rally support. And many aides "volunteer" for their employers' campaigns.

What congressional offices don't have are aides whose titles explicitly say they work on politics or political affairs. But it's hard to see Waxman's effort going anywhere even if he does introduce such a bill. Even if he could specifically ban the use of taxpayer money for, say, the Office of Political Affairs, the next administration could just give the office a different name and its head -- technically, the next Jonathan Felts -- a different title and continue business as usual. After all, the official description of the OPA says that it "ensures that the executive branch and the President are aware of the concerns of the American citizen." How could congress possibly block such a noble endeavor?

As energetic and aggressive as Waxman has been at conducting oversight, taking politics out of the White House is probably too tall an order. But it might be entertaining to see him try.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 8, 2008; 10:47 AM ET
Categories:  Branch vs. Branch  
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