From the moment he became White House chief of staff, Erskine
Bowles has had his eye on the exit. This week he expects finally
to depart for home and maybe a political career in North
Carolina. "As soon as Congress is gone, he's gone," says a White
House official. Bowles, credited with bringing order to a
chaotic operation and setting a less partisan tone with
Republicans, wanted to leave last January, but President Clinton
implored him to stay. The decision is probably one Bowles has at
times regretted: Only days after he announced that he would
stay, the Lewinsky scandal broke.
Although Bowles has pointedly
kept himself out of that crisis -- last month he said that until
the matter reached Congress, "I hadn't spent two minutes a week
on it" -- the problem has consumed a year that Bowles had hoped
would be spent consolidating the administration's
accomplishments. Because Bowles had neither the inclination nor
the temperament for scandal control, that job fell to Bowles'
deputy, John Podesta, who is the leading contender for Bowles'
post -- which says a lot about what the President expects will
dominate his remaining time in office.