Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, much criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for his handling of the Iraq war, resigned yesterday. The President Bush accepted his resignation, and nominated Robert M. Gates, CIA director from 1991-1993, to replace him. Rumsfeld's departure is being described in the media as a response to what the President labeled a "thumping" in the midterm elections. Coverage of Rumsfeld, as usual, was markedly negative. The CBS Evening News led its broadcast saying, "The Democrats are in, Donald Rumsfeld is out. It's a tidal wave of change." Bush "met the big loss with a big change, firing" Rumsfeld, the "highly divisive and polarizing figure and replacing him with a veteran of his father's Administration."
This morning, a front-page Washington Post headline reads "Bush Ousts Embattled Rumsfeld; Democrats Near Control Of Senate," a prime example of how the media is connecting the elections with the Secretary's exit. The New York Times runs a similar A1 headline ("Rumsfeld Resigns; Bush Vows to 'Find Common Ground'; Focus Is on Virginia"). A second Washington Post story says that "though Bush affectionately patted Rumsfeld on the shoulder as he ushered him out of the Oval Office, there was little sugarcoating the reality" that Rumsfeld "was being offered as a sacrificial lamb amid the repudiation of Bush and his Iraq policy that the American electorate delivered on Tuesday." On Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, meanwhile, Dick Morris said, "I was surprised. How about September? How about doing it in August or July? If he'd done that months before, he could have won this election. ... I think that the country was waiting for some indication from Bush that he got it. And there was no indication."
"Un-Rumsfeld" Gates To Take Center Stage. Gates' selection is getting generally positive media coverage. ABC World News said Gates "is in many ways the 'un-Rumsfeld.' Where Rumsfeld is combative and controversial, Gates is soft-spoken and diplomatic. And there are substantive differences as well. Gates was not among those who pushed for the Iraq war. In fact, he's seen as a protégé of Brent Scowcroft, who, although he has been associated with the first President Bush, has been one of the harshest critics of this President's handling of the Iraq war. And most importantly, Gates is on that Baker-Hamilton Commission, who has been searching for a new direction in Iraq." Similarly, the Los Angeles Times also says that in turning the Gates, Bush "has selected a low-key loyalist who is in many ways the opposite" of Rumsfeld.
The New York Times calls the nomination a return "to an earlier era in Republican foreign policy, one marked more by caution and pragmatism than that of the neoconservatives who have shaped the Bush administration's war in Iraq and confrontations with Iran and North Korea." The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, calls Gates "a master operator of the national-security bureaucracy," and USA Today says "those who have observed Gates" say his job as Texas A&M president may actually "have provided the best test of the skills he'll need to succeed" at the Pentagon.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, expected to become the next Speaker of the House, said yesterday that in January, when the new Congress convenes, she intends to move very quickly to pass her party's agenda. The Washington Post says that agenda "includes an increase of $2.10 an hour in the minimum wage, full implementation of the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11, 2001, commission, and making some college tuition payments tax-deductible." McClatchy reports Pelosi "signaled Wednesday that she intends to steer a centrist course and work across party lines with President Bush to shape policy on Iraq, energy, Social Security and immigration." Pelosi "acknowledged that her party's return to the House majority after a dozen years in exile occurred largely because at least nine fairly conservative 'Blue Dog' Democrats won Republican seats. The liberal-tilting House Democratic caucus must accommodate them -- and the centrist voters they represent -- she conceded." The AP notes Pelosi also "pledged that Democrats will make the next Congress 'the most honest, ethical and open' one in history."
Pelosi Discusses Investigations. On PBS' NewsHour yesterday, Pelosi was asked whether the new House majority will launch investigations of the Administration. Pelosi said, "Investigations are needed in terms of -- I think the American people want to know about Katrina, about contracting and Halliburton in Iraq. They want to know how we have the energy policy that we do so that we go forward to protect the American people in case of natural disaster, to protect us in times of" war. On CNN's The Situation Room, she added, "Subpoena power is a last resort. We would hope that there would be cooperation from the executive branch in terms of investigating the pre-war intelligence." But as the Washington Post reports, the San Francisco Democrat also "said she will not heed the calls of some activists on the left to explore impeaching the president."
Pelosi Suggests US Causing Violence In Iraq. ABC World News asked Pelosi about her position on the Iraq war. She said, "Our presence in Iraq has been provocative to our enemies. It is viewed as an occupation. And is resisted not only by Iraqis but others in the region. And those troublemakers, few in number, but nonetheless, a menace, would probably leave Iraq after we left Iraq. They're there because we're there.
On Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto asked Rep. Charles Rangel, likely to be the next House Ways and Means committee chairman. "The President talked a great deal today about private accounts" for Social Security. Is that "a non-starter to Charlie Rangel?" Rangel said, "If it's in addition to maintaining Social Security as we know it, no, it's not a non-starter."
Republican leadership aides, looking to blame President Bush for their losses in Tuesday's election, suggested today that they won't be marching in lockstep to push the administration's lame duck agenda and instead may produce their own version of the 1994 Contract With America that brought them to power. Several officials in the House tell US News Bulletin that the election could open the door to a bitter fight between the Republican leadership and the White House, which GOP aides have long complained has ignored them and done little to reward six years of support for the President's agenda. "We don't owe them a thing," said a House GOP aide. "We'll regroup around our own agenda and if the White House and us have some things in common, that'd be great," added the official. Creating a new House and Senate Republican agenda is a ways off, said another official, and will await new leadership elections. In the meantime, he said, there will be a debate over whether to go back to "the Reagan model" of cutting spending and the size of government or continue pushing for more program spending and a heavy focus on socially conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage. One signal may come today at the weekly meeting of conservatives at the headquarters of Americans For Tax Reform. At that meeting, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said the party was hit hard, but will recover and move forward, according to an attendee. Another attendee said he expects a heated debate over what when wrong in the election and how the GOP can mount a comeback. "This was not a Perfect Storm against us, but a pretty dang hard blow -- and the majority was self-inflicted," he said.
Conservatives Blame GOP Leaders For Losses. Meanwhile, conservative leaders are expressing their anger at the GOP leaders on the Hill, blaming them for the poor election result. McClatchy quotes conservative strategist Richard A. Viguerie saying, "Every single member of the Republican leadership in the House should be replaced. They have failed the conservatives who put them in office, and they have failed the people of this country." Talk show host Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, said, "I feel liberated. ... I no longer am going to have to carry water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried." In "one of the most stinging indictments, David Keene, the longtime president of the American Conservative Union -- the nation's oldest grass-roots conservative lobby, founded in 1964 -- ripped Republicans for spending more taxpayer money than Democrats had and for weak ethics." Keene "joined Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., in urging House Republicans to postpone their leadership elections until January. Cantor is a member of the existing House Republican leadership as chief deputy whip." The Washington Post runs a similar story under the headline "Conservative Talkers, Feeling Just a Little Blue."
Hastert Won't Seek Minority Leader Post. The CBS Evening News reported last night current House Speaker Dennis Hastert won't seek the position of Minority Leader for the new Congress. The AP says Hastert's decision "cleared the way for a likely succession battle among lawmakers who face the sudden loss of power after a dozen years in the majority. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, currently the majority leader, is expected to run for leader, and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana announced during the day he also will seek the post. Joe Barton of Texas has signaled he may join the field."
Sen. Joseph Biden said on MSNBC's Hardball last night, "One thing about this President, in my meetings with he and [Vice President] Cheney, there's no question who the boss is. He, the President, is the boss. ... He'll just say, 'Shut up, Dick,' or something to that effect. ... Here's what this President does: He delegates full authority and walks away. ... He decided that Cheney was the guy, that he was the smartest guy to do this, and now I think he's decided Cheney ain't working. And so what he's saying is 'Dick, I'm changing. I'm the boss. Here's what we're doing.'"
Democrats yesterday appeared to squeak out close wins in both Virginia and Montana, giving them 51 seats in the Senate and control of that body. The AP reports that in Virginia the final count showed challenger James Webb (D) defeating Sen. George Allen (R) by 7,236 votes. The Washington Times reports that Allen is unlikely to call for a recount and will likely formally concede the race today. In Montana, the Billings Gazette reports that Sen. Conrad Burns (R) trailed challenger Jon Tester (D) by 2,847 votes with all precincts reporting. However, Burns is not yet conceding, saying that provisional votes and those from Montanans serving in the military could still come in and give him a win.
President Looks For Common Ground With Democrats. In a press conference yesterday, President Bush said that although the midterm elections were close on a race-by-race basis, overall they represented a "thumping." Bush's "thumping" quote was broadcast in all three network newscasts, and appears on the front-page headlines of several major newspapers. Bush also took his share of responsibility for the GOP loss, and reached out to Democrats. USA Today reports Bush "began rebooting his agenda on Wednesday, ticking off a revised list of priorities that include education, an immigration overhaul and maybe even an increase in the minimum wage." Bush "pledged to 'work through our differences' with incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. He said that includes the conduct of the Iraq war." The President "said there may be some 'common ground' on a Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 as long as there is 'compensation' for small business owners. ... Bush also expressed hope for a more 'comprehensive' immigration bill that includes expanded employment opportunities for temporary 'guest workers.'" USA Today adds, "Among other agenda items Bush cited: an extension of his signature No Child Left Behind education law, promoting alternatives to oil and dealing with unfunded liabilities in entitlement programs, including Social Security"
Media reports describe the President with terms such as "contrite" and "humble," and several newspaper stories and opinion pieces focus their election analyses on Bush's low popularity ratings. The Los Angeles Times, for example, says Bush's "effort to secure his legacy was encumbered by two inflexible factors: the loss of a once-supportive congressional majority and the weight of an unpopular war. ... What lies ahead, Bush's remarks suggested, might be a presidency open to compromise on domestic legislation but committed to its basic strategy in Iraq and the war on terrorism -- one-half Austin, Texas, one-half Sept. 11." Robert Novak, in a syndicated column appearing in the Washington Post, says the reaction from losing GOP candidates has been "anger at...Bush and his political team. ... The unpleasant truth is that Republicans lost almost everywhere the president campaigned during the past week." Also in the Washington Post, David Broder writes the Republican Party "paid a heavy price for Bush and Rove's obduracy -- and for the miserable performance of the GOP congressional leadership." Stuart Rothenberg, in Roll Call, says Bush, "of course, is the biggest loser" in this election "in a number of ways. He loses at least one chamber, and he is the reason Republicans took a bath on Tuesday. He may console himself by believing that he has the right policy in Iraq and history will judge him kindly." But "his performance in office has destroyed a number of noteworthy political careers, and he would be wise to never forget that."
The conclusion of the 2006 elections appears to have officially kicked off the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign. The Des Moines Register reports this morning that outgoing Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is expected to announce the formation of a presidential campaign committee today. The Register adds that he plans a formal announcement that he's running on November 30 in his hometown. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has begged off talking about her 2008 plans for the last year by saying she was focused on her reelection, now says that she is too exhilarated by the midterms to talk about 2008 just yet, the New York Times reports today. Several other Democrats indicate that they will make a decision in the near future: The AP reports that Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) says he will make a decision after Christmas, while another AP story reports that Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who would likely be the anti-war candidate in the field, said he would make a decision by the end of year.
While it is clear that the Democrats won enough seats to take control of the House yesterday, the number of close races still being sorted out has obscured the ultimate extent of that majority. The Norwich Bulletin reports that challenger Joe Courtney (D) leads CT2 Rep. Rob Simmons (R) by 167 votes, a margin close enough to trigger an automatic recount. The recount there is expected to take a week to ten days. Roll Call reports today that recounts may be in the offing in a number of other close races, such as NC8, where Rep. Robin Hayes (R) defeated challenger Larry Kissell (D) by about 500 votes, and in the Wyoming At-Large seat, where Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) appears to have won by less than 1000 votes. Democrats are also looking at the FL13 race, Roll Call adds, saying they were hearing reports of "alleged voter irregularities" in a race that saw Vern Buchanan (R) triumph by about 370 votes.
Jay Leno: "It's ironic because the Republicans said they always wanted to appeal to minorities. Now they are one."
David Letterman: "What a big day. Earlier today the Democrats removed the duct tape from John Kerry's mouth. He's back and ready to go."
David Letterman: "Donald Rumsfeld has resigned. The new Secretary of Defense is a guy named Robert Gates. ... But Rumsfeld took it pretty well. He said he's eager now to move on and try to legalize torture in the private sector."
Conan O'Brien: "Senator Hillary Clinton's overwhelming victory has fueled speculation that she will run for president in 2008. ... Yeah, in other words, there was some good news for Republicans."
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