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Bush's New Spokesman Has Long History With His Boss

Scott McClellan, a Texas native, has been chief deputy for two years to Ari Fleischer, whom he will replace as White House press secretary.

June 21, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — New White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan will begin his job with one advantage over Ari Fleischer, his predecessor -- he won't need to demonstrate his loyalty to President Bush.

Fleischer was one of the exceptions among the White House inner circle -- a non-Texan who, when he joined Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, had not previously worked for the candidate.

McClellan, who will replace Fleischer next month, is a Texas native with extensive experience in the state's politics and a track record of serving Bush.

As Bush put it Friday in announcing the appointment: "I've known Scott for a long time."

The president added that McClellan would help him "make sure that the American people and, of course, the press corps get the information that's needed to reflect the philosophy and the decision making of this administration."

McClellan, 35, has been Fleischer's chief deputy during Bush's more than two years in office.

The heightened profile he will gain as the president's chief spokesman also may call more attention to a family member -- his brother, Mark, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Scott McClellan cut his teeth in politics by managing three campaigns for his mother, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a former mayor of Austin. A Republican, she is the Texas comptroller.

It was through his work for his mother that McClellan came to know Bush in the early 1990s, as well as Karen Hughes, one of the future president's most trusted aides.

In early 1999, as Bush was beginning his second term as Texas governor, McClellan was hired as a spokesman for Bush. McClellan then served as traveling press secretary during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Among reporters, McClellan is known for his wry sense of humor and interest in sports -- especially the fortunes of the University of Texas, his alma mater.

In replacing Fleischer, who announced in May that he intended to resign, McClellan will be following a press secretary who scrupulously adhered to the administration's message on any given day.

McClellan, when he occasionally filled in for Fleischer, sometimes seemed less sure-footed when responding to pointed questions. But he is likely to be a quick learner, as he demonstrated during the morning briefing at the White House on Friday.

Bush had not yet announced McClellan's appointment, but rumors were rampant that he would soon do so. Asked about the matter, McClellan demurred, falling back on the ironclad White House rule of never commenting on personnel matters until they are formally announced.

Then he quipped: "I never speculate on personnel matters, but I guess we are getting close. I might as well go ahead and announce it: Yes, I'm getting married in November."

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