WASHINGTON -- Ed Gillespie, a high-dollar Washington lobbyist and longtime go-to guy for President Bush and the Republican Party, is replacing Dan Bartlett as White House counselor in the president's inner circle.
"He is a seasoned hand who has got excellent judgment. He's a good strategic thinker that I know will do a fine job," Bush said after having lunch with Gillespie and Bartlett. Gillespie sat on Bush's right hand in the Oval Office, with the man he is succeeding on the couch near them.
Gillespie, a former head of the national GOP, will take on Bartlett's same duties and title. He starts June 27, to have some overlap with Bartlett, who is leaving around July 4.
Bartlett, 36, has been one of Bush's most trusted advisers, a near-constant presence at Bush's side and, at 14 years, his longest-serving aide. Bartlett has been with Bush from his first campaign as governor of Texas, through two races for the White House and more than six years of a presidency marked by declining support in the Iraq war.
The son of an Irish immigrant and two parents who never went to college, Gillespie said later in the day that he was pinching himself that he had been called to duty for a president.
"I have a few goose bumps today," he said.
As communications director and then from the broader perch of counselor, Bartlett has been at the center of White House decision making. He stepped into the public eye particularly in times of trouble, defending Bush on everything from Iraq, to the government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and the Republicans' loss of Congress last year.
But with three children under the age of 4, including twins, he said earlier this month that he needed less stress and a career outside of government.
Bush said he understood, but will miss the friend whom he has known "gosh -- since 1993."
"I never thought I'd be able to find somebody to possibly do as good a job as he's done," the president said of Bartlett.
The son of an Irish immigrant and two parents who never went to college -- his dad owned a bar in New Jersey -- Gillespie said later in the day that he was pinching himself that he had been called to duty for a president.
"I have a few goose bumps today," he said.
White House press secretary Tony Snow described Gillespie's relationship with Bush as "friendly" -- not nearly as close as the almost father-son intimacy that Bartlett and Bush share and which allows for unusual candor.
"That kind of personal relationship is not something you can duplicate," Snow said. "On the other hand, Ed also brings enormous talents and experience."
Joining a White House sometimes criticized for being too insular, with aides afraid of challenging Bush or delivering bad news, Gillespie said he wouldn't pull punches. "I'd rather be kicking myself for something I said than something I didn't," he said.
Gillespie has been a high-profile Washington lobbyist, joining forces with former Clinton administration counsel Jack Quinn to form Quinn Gillespie & Associates. He also is chairman of the Virginia Republican Party.
Gillespie was listed as lobbyist last year for dozens of clients, including such corporate giants as Microsoft, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, Tyson Foods, the Safeway grocery store chain, the Entergy energy company, Bank of America, the Diageo liquor company and NBC Universal, lobbying reports on file with the Senate show.
Funny and well-liked by reporters, Gillespie has played many roles for Bush, in addition to being Republican National Committee chairman during the 2004 elections that sent Bush back to the White House and retained GOP majorities in the House and Senate.
He was a senior communications adviser to Bush's first campaign for president, spokesman during the 2000 recount in Florida and communications director for the 2001 inaugural. He was tapped to guide Samuel Alito through his confirmation to the Supreme Court, after doing the same for former White House counsel Harriet Miers. She eventually withdrew her nomination after a conservative revolt.
Gillespie's name has surfaced nearly every time there was a significant opening looming in the Bush White House. When it seemed political guru Karl Rove might be forced out because of the CIA leak investigation, for instance, Gillespie was speculated to be one choice as a possible replacement. Same for when former chief of staff Andrew Card was leaving.
He started on Capitol Hill parking cars in the Senate garage. He made his name as a top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. He was a principal drafter of the "Contract with America," the 1994 GOP platform that gets credit for helping Republicans capture control of Congress after 40 years of Democratic rule.
After Gillespie left the Hill to become a lobbyist, he held a yearly "flak bash" for Republican press secretaries, with a flak jacket for the person who had been most under fire that year.
Rumored ambitions to run for office in Virgina now will have to be put on hold.
Gillespie and his wife, Cathy, have three children. Of the strain on families that ultimately pushed Bartlett out, Gillespie said: "It's 18 months -- we can handle it."