George W. Bush once -- no, twice -- vowed to fire anyone involved in leaking Valerie Plame's identity to the press. The president's press secretary said unequivocally that anyone found to have been involved wouldn't have a job at the White House anymore.
So how is it that Karl Rove is still serving as the president's deputy chief of staff?
We've been asking that question for months, and now some conservatives are -- ever so gingerly -- beginning to join in. Appearing on "Hardball" last night, Sen. Trent Lott wondered out loud whether the president is well served by having Rove in a top policy position. While acknowledging that Rove has been "very successful" and "very effective" in the "political arena," Lott asked whether Rove was the right person to be making policy decisions in the White House. "The question is, should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances?" Lott said. "Most presidents in recent years have a political adviser in the White House. The question is, should they be, you know, making policy decisions. That's the question you've got to evaluate."
It wasn't a call for Bush to fire Rove or even for Rove to resign. But Lott knows a thing or two about public criticism -- Bush condemned Lott for his comments about Strom Thurmond back in 2002 -- and he knows that a slow drip of questions and comments can be more effective than a single whack.
Is that drip beginning for Rove? The White House says Bush has a "great team," and it's pushing back against calls for any kind of shake-up. But as Reuters reports, Lott isn't the only one suggesting some changes that might start near the top. Cato Institute Chairman William Niskanen said yesterday that the president needs to "sacrifice people who have worked with him to regain some initiative," and that any such sacrifice should start with Rove because of his role in the Plame case.