Secretary of State Colin Powell and three other Cabinet members submitted their resignations on Monday, as the shake-up of President Bush's second-term team escalated. "I believe that now that the election is over, the time has come for me to step down," Powell wrote.
The White House released the letter Powell sent to the president on Friday as well as those written by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, confirming their departures.
The announcements earlier of the departures of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, along with those disclosed Monday, brought to six — out of 15 — the number of Cabinet members involved in the post-election exodus.
"I am pleased to have been part of a team that launched the global war against terror, liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people, brought the attention of the world to the problem of proliferation, reaffirmed our alliances, adjusted to the post-Cold War world and undertook major initiaitives to deal with the problem of poverty and disease in the developing world," Powell told Bush.
The president already has chosen White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to succeed Ashcroft, and speculation on Powell's successor has centered on U.N. Ambassador John Danforth, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Powell, who long had been rumored planning only a single term with Bush, told the president he intends to "return to private life." Earlier Monday, he had told aides he intended to leave once Bush settled on a successor, administration officials said.
"Secretary Powell's departure is a loss to the moderate internationalist voices in the Bush administration," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration. "Hopefully, his replacement will be a pragmatist rather than an ideologue."
Abraham, a former senator from Michigan, joined the administration after he lost a bid for re-election, becoming the nation's 10th energy secretary. If he stays at the post until the end of this term, as is planned, he would become the longest-serving secretary at the department.
Sources said that Abraham intends to stay in Washington, where he plans to work in private law practice. Abraham struggled in attempt to get Congress to endorse the Bush administration's broad energy agenda, but was unable to convince Congress to enact energy legislation.
Abraham, on another front, worked aggressively to expand the government's efforts safeguarding nuclear materials and convinced the White House to put more money into nuclear nonproliferation efforts. He also pushed aggressively to expand research into hydrogen-fuel vehicles.
The leading candidate to replace Paige is Margaret Spellings, Bush's domestic policy adviser who helped shape his school agenda when he was the Texas governor.
Paige, 71, the nation's seventh education secretary, is the first black person to serve in the job. He grew up in segregated Mississippi and built a career on a belief that education equalizes opportunity, moving from college dean and school superintendent to education chief.
The daughter of a California peach grower, Veneman, 55, was the nation's first woman agriculture secretary. Speculation on a potential replacement has centered on Chuck Conner, White House farm adviser, Democratic Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas, who lost his seat in the Nov. 2 elections, Allen Johnson, the chief U.S. negotiator on agricultural issues, Bill Hawks, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs and Charles Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation.
Powell has had a controversial tenure in the secretary of state's job, reportedly differing on some key issues at various junctures with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Powell, however, has generally had good relations with his counterparts around the world, although his image was strained by the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Powell, a former chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush, led the current administration offensive at the United Nations for a military attack to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, arguing a weapons-of-mass-destruction threat that the administration could never buttress.
"It's been a joy to work with Colin Powell," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. He praised Powell as "a unique figure" who had made the transition "from being a great soldier to being a great statesman and diplomat."
For many months, Powell had been viewed as a one-term secretary of state but he has always been vague about his intentions. He had said repeatedly in recent weeks that he serves at "the pleasure of the president."
Powell's role in shaping foreign policy was one of promoting moderation and traditional diplomatic alliances with friendly nations. His influence was measured, though, since most of Bush's other senior advisers generally took a harder line and they often prevailed.
Earlier, after the 9-11 attacks, Powell helped fashion a fragile coalition of countries for the war against terrorism, careful to request all the help a country could give without pushing any country beyond its limits. Similarly, when leaders decided to end or shorten their troops' duty in postwar Iraq the State Department avoided any harsh reaction, saying simply that it was up to each country to make up its mind.
Iraq has dominated Powell's attention during his nearly four years in office.