White House spokesman Tony Snow stepping down

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday announced the resignation of his press secretary Tony Snow, a former television commentator admired for his skill at sparring with reporters and who is battling cancer.

President Bush (C) reacts as White House Press Secretary Tony Snow speaks while newly announced White House Press Secretary Dana Perino (L) listens in the press briefing room of the White House August 31, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Bush picked Snow’s deputy, Dana Perino, to replace him when he leaves in two weeks. Perino, 35, will become only the second woman to hold that high-profile position in the White House.

Bush stopped in the White House press room before heading to the Pentagon to pay tribute to Snow, who is credited with livening up the daily news briefings with reporters.

“It’s been a joy to watch him spar with you,” Bush said.

Snow, 52, learned in March that the colon cancer he had fought earlier had recurred and has undergone chemotherapy.

But he said his decision to leave was for financial, not health, reasons. “I ran out of money,” said Snow, who earned much more in his former job as a Fox News commentator than at his government salary of $168,000 a year.

“We took out a loan when I came to the White House, and that loan is now gone. So I’m going to have to pay the bills,” said Snow, who is married with three children.

Snow said that his health has been fine and that tests have not indicated any growth in tumors or any new tumors.

“Right now I’m feeling great. I’ve finally put weight back on. I feel strong,” he said, adding that his thinning hair would come back.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

Snow expressed admiration for the White House press corps while noting the often-adversarial relationship reporters have with press secretaries.

He joked with veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas that he someday wants to be sitting in the front row, as she does, “making life a living hell for a press secretary.”

Bush said that Perino, who has often filled in for Snow when he has been away, is someone who could “spell out the issues of the day in a way that people listening on TV can understand.”

“She can handle all of you,” he said.

But Perino, who is petite, said Snow left very big shoes to fill and joked, “I only wear a size 6.”

The only other woman to serve as White House press secretary was Dee Dee Myers, under former President Bill Clinton.

Snow said he plans to give speeches and stay involved in politics. He said he wants to raise awareness about cancer.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do, I’m not sure he does yet either,” Bush said. “One, he’ll battle cancer and win, and secondly he’ll be a solid contributor to society.”

Snow is the latest in a string of high-level White House officials to depart.

Friday was the last day at work for senior White House adviser Karl Rove. Snow described Rove’s final senior staff meeting this morning as emotional.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett, another longtime Bush adviser from Texas, left earlier this year.

Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan