Officials: Powell not expected in second Bush term
Secretary of state dismisses newspaper report as 'nonsense'
From John King and Andrea Koppel
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House expects that President Bush would have to assemble a new foreign policy team, including a secretary of state, if he were to win a second term, administration officials said Monday.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has long told friends and associates that he planned to serve in the Cabinet no longer than one term, but speculation about his future increased Monday after the Washington Post published and article that said Powell and his top deputy, Richard Armitage, have recently reaffirmed their intentions to step down even if the president is re-elected.
Powell, interviewed on Radio Sawa, the U.S. government's Arabic-language station that broadcasts to the Middle East, called the newspaper report "nonsense" and said it wasn't true that he had told the president of his plans to leave.
"I don't know what they are talking about," Powell said. "I serve at the pleasure of the president. The president and I have not discussed anything other than my continuing to do my job for him, and this is just one of those stories that emerge in Washington that reflects nothing more than gossip, and the gossip leads to a rash of speculation about who might fill a vacancy that does not exist."
An aide to Powell told CNN on Monday that it would not be surprising if Powell and Armitage were to leave at the end of the term. What would be surprising, the aide said, would be if they agreed to stay or decided to bolt before the end of Bush's first term.
"Anybody who thought Powell would have stayed around for a second term if Bush is re-elected would have to ask the question, 'What's he smoking?' " the Powell aide said.
Administration officials point out that Bush's first term does not end for more than 17 months, and they dismissed talk about possible administrative vacancies as premature.
"Check the calendar," said one official, who called the focus on a second term Cabinet lineup at this time "ridiculous."
In a written statement, State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said there was "no basis" for the article.
"As Secretary Powell has always said, he and Deputy Secretary Armitage serve at the pleasure of the president and will continue to do so," Reeker said.
Still, the issue of what a presidential Cabinet would look like is a favorite parlor game in Washington political circles.
Turnover in the Bush Cabinet has been relatively small, and the national security team has been in place since the beginning of the administration.
A senior official said that though there "are much more immediate things we worry about," it would not be unusual or unexpected for there to be substantial turnover in the Cabinet and other senior positions if the president were to win re-election.
Those mentioned as possible candidates for secretary of state in a second Bush term include national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
The Powell aide said Armitage met recently with Rice and jokingly told her that if she does move to the State Department, "don't expect any of us to be here."
In addition to giving the one-term commitment to Bush, the aide said, Powell gave the same commitment to his wife, Alma.
"It is clear that she's not elated about the invasion of privacy" that has resulted from Powell's high-profile position, the aide said, and she "has about had it" with her husband's frequent trips away from home and long hours at the office.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Monday that Powell and Armitage will visit Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon for dinner and a meeting that will cover a range of policy issues. They will leave after lunch Wednesday.
McClellan said the visit had been "in the works for the last couple of weeks."
McClellan would not directly answer questions about whether Bush wants Powell and Armitage to stay. Instead, he noted that Powell has said many times that he "serves at the pleasure of the president."
He called Powell and Armitage "outstanding members of the president's team and highly valued."