President George W. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer, a master at relentlessly staying on the message of the day, announced on Monday he will resign his high-pressure job this summer to move to the private sector.
One of the most recognizable faces of the Bush White House, Fleischer said that after dealing with the pressures of the Sept. 11 crisis, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and US anthrax attacks he is ready to move on.
"My heart tells me it's time to go," he told reporters.
A deputy White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, was seen as top candidate, although Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke has also been mentioned as a possible replacement.
"I informed President Bush last week that after 21 years of doing nothing but government and politics ... that I have decided that my time has come to leave the White House. And I will leave later this summer, most likely in July," he said.
Fleischer, 42, a native of Pound Ridge, New York, and veteran of more than 20 years in Washington politics, mostly on Capitol Hill, was relentlessly disciplined in pressing the president's particular message of the day.
An unflappable presence at the podium of the cramped, messy White House press room, he rarely could be sidetracked from the talking points of the issue of the day despite the best efforts of reporters to press him off message.
"The job of the press corps is to try to find out everything you possibly can about everything under the sun. And I try to help you as much as I can, wherever I can. And my job is to represent the president. And that's what I always remember when I come to this podium," Fleischer said.
Mike McCurry, a press secretary for former president Bill Clinton, gave Fleischer high marks.
"He has done well because he's kept in mind that he serves this president, and this president -- and every president -- wants communications handled in a very precise way, reflecting the Oval Office and not the guy at the podium," McCurry said.
Fleischer, who got married six months ago, said he would spend the next 18 months trying to help Bush get re-elected then would move home to Westchester, New York.
He will help Bush's re-election campaign, give speeches, maybe do some writing while figuring out what to do in the private sector.
His announcement took some senior White House officials by surprise. Many thought he would stay on through the end of the first term.
Fleischer said if he did not leave now he would need to stay on through Bush's re-election campaign. "There's kind of an off-ramp. You either take it at this time or you're in for four," he said, meaning all four years of Bush's term.
He pointed out that his tenure -- 2-1/2 years -- is fairly typical of the top White House spokesman over the past decade during the explosion of the 24-hour news cycle on cable television and the Internet.
"I really want to unwind, do something more relaxing like dismantle live nuclear weapons," he joked.
Fleischer, who has enjoyed a close relationship with Bush despite not being from the president's band of Texas advisers, said he told Bush last Friday in an emotional meeting at the end of which Bush kissed him on his bald head.