WASHINGTON -- Karen Hughes, the fierce protector of President Bush's image and perhaps the most powerful woman ever to serve as White House adviser, resigned Tuesday to go home to Texas with her family. "I guess we're a little homesick," she said in a surprise announcement.
With the first high-profile resignation of his presidency, Bush lost the everyday presence of a virtually irreplaceable aide who helped him launch his political career as Texas governor in 1994. The president said he will seek Hughes' input as an unofficial adviser in Texas, and won't replace her as White House counselor when she leaves this summer.
"She may be changing addresses, but she's not leaving my inner circle," Bush said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The departure of Hughes, 45, could dramatically change life at the White House.
Under orders to attend every White House meeting in which major decisions are made, Hughes reviews and often rewrites every statement Bush makes. She travels with him to make sure pictures of his road trips match the message. She manages more than 40 aides who staff the communications, press secretary, speechwriting and media affairs offices. She confronts reporters and harangues White House surrogates who step outside the administration's line. She maintains an iron grip on information, an enforcer against leaks.
She spends more time with Bush than any other aide, even senior adviser Karl Rove -- taking walks on the White House grounds and chatting over coffee -- and is known for having a sense of his moods and thinking.
Rove's influence is likely to increase once Hughes leaves. The two have gotten along well but have not been shy about giving Bush conflicting advice. The president views debate among his top aides as a way to balance their influence with him, associates say.
Also likely to benefit from the move: Communications Director Dan Bartlett who, at just 30, has worked for Bush even longer than Hughes and will assume more duties.
"My husband and I have made a difficult but we think right decision to move our family home back to Texas," Hughes said. "Our roots are there."
Senior White House advisers and Hughes associates outside the administration said her son, Robert, 15, was eager to return home. Her husband, lawyer Jerry, was unhappy with Washington and regretted the loss of privacy and lack of time with his wife.
Strong-willed and powerful, Hughes had told Bush she would not come to Washington unless she could adjust her schedule to be with her family. And at the White House, she left her corner office early at least once a week to get home.
Presidential historians said Hughes' influence was unprecedented for a woman -- except for a handful of first ladies and perhaps Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.