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Sources: Bush urged to bulk up inner circle

Friends suggest changes needed to counter missteps
President Bush values loyalty in his staff and might resist changes to his inner circle.



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White House
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A move is afoot among some friends and confidantes of President Bush to persuade him to bring in at least one seasoned Republican to help his struggling staff, CNN has learned.

According to sources involved in the discussions, some veteran Republicans have been quietly trying to convince White House chief of staff Andy Card to bring in at least one "adult," like a former senator or another "experienced hand," to help him reach out to congressional leaders, troubleshoot and, in the words of one source, "just be in the loop and give advice." (Watch whether Bush has a 'Jimmy Carter problem' -- 1:55)

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

Parlor game?

Despite a series of White House missteps in recent weeks, the sources said, Bush does not appear to have an appetite for a staff shakeup, something some Bush allies have said for months is overdue.

Wednesday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan took exception to questions about changes to the White House staff.

"The president has surrounded himself with a very capable and experienced team that is fully committed to helping him advance his agenda and get things done," McClellan said.

"This is part of the inside Washington babble that goes on in this town," he said. "It's part of the parlor game."

Reluctant to change

The White House has suffered many political setbacks since the start of Bush's second term in 2005, including a failed initiative to overhaul Social Security and growing dissatisfaction with the Iraq war. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday found that 60 percent believe the war is going poorly, and Bush's approval rating slipped to 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency. (Full story)

White House observers also say the recent politically bruising fight over the DP World deal that put a Dubai-based company in control of six major U.S. ports also suggests that fatigue is causing the White House staff, which has been known for its political sensitivity and discipline, to miss a beat.

"No one is trying to get them to fire anyone. No one is trying to get them to make wholesale changes," said a second GOP source. "This is just about adding a supplemental person to add to the mix."

But Bush, who values loyalty and resists changes to his inner circle, has apparently not signed off on the idea. One source involved in the discussions joked that "the more it becomes public, the more unlikely it is that it will happen."

A senior White House official also told CNN that there is "zero indication" that changes were in the works but confirmed that friends of the administration have suggested that Bush "add, not subtract."

Card has been reaching out to various friends over the past few weeks for ideas on how to help bring the president out of a growing political slump.

There has been talk for months that Card himself should leave, including reports he could become Secretary of the Treasury. Card has told friends as recently as the past few weeks that he is not interested in moving to the Treasury Department, yet some Republicans outside the White House continue to push the idea.

Card "doesn't want [to move to the Treasury Department], wouldn't take it and isn't planning on going anywhere," the White House official told CNN.

Senior officials and friends of Card said Bush is reluctant to let him leave, saying he is concerned major changes would lead to a transition time they can't afford. Card is the second-longest serving White House chief of staff.

An old political trick

Bringing in new blood in the hope of overcoming political doldrums is an old presidential trick.

Bill Clinton, plagued by a health care plan that went nowhere and a confrontation with the Pentagon over gays in the military, brought in Republican White House veteran David Gergen.

In the wake of Iran Contra, Ronald Reagan dismissed some old hands and brought in former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker as chief of staff.

Former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein publicly suggested that approach for President Bush three months ago, but was ignored.

In this case, one GOP source said, "We don't think anyone will leave, but we are giving them some advice to add people."

CNN's Dana Bash and John King contributed to this report.

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