Andy Card's face told the story. After five years as chief of staff--twice the tenure of most of his predecessors--his eyes were puffy and his skin looked gray. Three weeks ago, amid widespread calls for a White House makeover, he and Bush began talking about whether he should quit. While they mulled it over, they continued to bond as mountain biking buddies. On one ride near the nation's capital, Card took a tumble--an occupational hazard on Bush's punishing workouts--and wound up with a broken wrist and sprained elbow. Anyone else would have headed straight for the hospital. But Bush was biking the next day, so the long-suffering Card climbed back in the saddle and endured another 20-mile ride before finally visiting a doctor.
Card was still wearing a brace last Tuesday morning, when he announced his resignation at an emotional staff meeting in the Roosevelt Room. At one point, Bush unexpectedly walked into the meeting, hugged Card, and walked out without saying a word. "This isn't going to be a eulogy," Card told them. "This is a celebration."
Other chiefs of staff have jealously guarded the door to the Oval Office, or driven the president's agenda. But Dick Cheney and Karl Rove overshadowed Card in the West Wing. Historians may have a hard time finding Card's fingerprints on the Bush presidency. He left after what Bush's aides gingerly refer to as a "culmination of things"--among them Katrina, Harriet Miers's failed Supreme Court bid and the Dubai ports deal. But he was always there for his boss, working brutally long hours and sometimes falling asleep with his BlackBerry resting on his chest. No job was too small: "There are many times when I've walked up to his shoulder and brushed off his dandruff or pulled off a speck of food from his tie," Card told NEWSWEEK at the start of Bush's second term.
Card's successor, Josh Bolten, may not be the new face critics have been calling for--he's been with Bush since 1999. But he's a policy warrior who dives into the details. Bolten endeared himself to Bush in the early days of the 2000 campaign. He could simplify complex policies in a way that Bush could understand and then explain to voters. He is known for a dry sense of humor, sometimes with a sarcastic edge.
Bolten worked his own way into Bush's circle of trust. Bolten first joined the team through Tom Tauke, the former Iowa congressman who was tasked with reaching out to officials who had worked for Bush 41. A trade lawyer under Bush's dad, Bolten was quick to show his dedication to the son. He gave up a lucrative job in London with Goldman Sachs, hopping on red-eye flights for job interviews in Austin.
As budget director at a time of massive deficits, Bolten might stand out as a tempting target for the wrath of fiscal conservatives. But he's managed to stay surprisingly popular. "People really like him," says one senior leadership aide, who declined to be named when talking about private meetings with Bolten. After Katrina, he calmly defended Bush's vague reconstruction plans before an irate group of House Republicans tired of being ignored by the White House. "The fact that he even showed up was a huge deal," the aide said.
Nobody expects an overhaul of the West Wing; Bush was happy with the house that Card built and, after all, Bolten served as Card's deputy in the first term. Still, further changes are sure to come. Staffers from the troubled Legislative Affairs Office (in charge of lobbying a rebellious Congress) may be among the first to go.
Just as important as a change of face is a shift in attitude. "I think there may have been a little bit of collective relaxation after the election," says Trent Duffy, who recently stepped down as deputy press secretary. But Bolten is more of a taskmaster. In his White House, life will never be as easy as falling off a bike.