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Bush's congressional liaison resigns

Move marks latest in a series of midterm departures

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House congressional liaison Nick Calio, the president's representative on Capitol Hill, is leaving the Bush administration next month, the White House said Tuesday.

Calio cited financial and family reasons for his resignation, which is effective January 10.

He is President Bush's top negotiator with lawmakers and was a key behind-the-scenes player on issues such as the 2001 tax cut and efforts to create a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department.

It's the latest in a string of midterm departures from the Bush administration. On Monday, longtime Bush aide Joe Allbaugh, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced he will leave March 1.

The White House announced Friday that Mary Matalin -- a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney and, like Calio, a veteran of the first Bush administration -- was leaving the administration, but would serve as an informal outside adviser to Bush and Cheney.

She is expected to be involved in Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

In the highest-profile shakeup, Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill resigned at Bush's request earlier this month.

A senior official said Calio was emotional in announcing his decision at Tuesday's senior staff meeting. He had previously informed the president and chief of staff Andy Card of his plans.

In a recent interview, Calio said he believed the first two-year period of the Bush administration "was one of the most productive in modern history." He cited legislation on tax cuts, education reform, trade promotion authority, the use-of-force resolution against Iraq and creating the Department of Homeland Security as major accomplishments.

"It has been hugely, hugely successful, and it has been good for America," he said.

Since the November elections, Calio also has been among the senior White House advisers cautioning conservatives -- especially social conservatives -- not to overreach and ask too much now that both chambers of Congress are back in Republican hands.

"There's been a lot of talk -- I call it hyperventilation -- about what we will now be able to do," Calio said in the late November CNN interview. Given that the Republican majorities are quite narrow, Calio said, "the notion that someone can run some big agenda through I think is fallacious. It won't happen in reality. You are still going to have to reach out, work with the other side, make accommodations."

Calio's resignation date is significant: January 10th is four days after Senate Republicans are to meet to decide whether to keep Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi as their leader.

Calio has been contacted by many GOP senators and other Republicans eager to get the president's views on the Lott controversy. Calio is a key architect of a White House strategy that some Republicans have complained sends mixed signals.

Senior White House officials do not dispute that characterization: Bush has said he does not believe Lott should resign, but the White House is not discouraging those planning to call for a new leadership vote. Senior officials said anew Tuesday morning that Bush did not believe the White House should interfere in an internal Senate matter like a leadership election.

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