- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

Key Republican senators and a top White House official yesterday said they have confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and dismissed Bush administration critics who suggest the Pentagon chief should resign.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, pledged their support and willingness to work with Mr. Rumsfeld.

“We’re at war. We should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon,” Mr. Warner said.

“We’re going to go through this [Iraq] election. We’re going to have a tough period after that election. And we should express our confidence in the commander in chief and his principal subordinates,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Lugar said Mr. Rumsfeld should stay in office but be held responsible for his actions.

“We have to hold accountable the secretary of defense and those who are responsible. Maybe we should be more vigilant and outspoken, and probably we all will be, because this is crucial in terms of the safety of our troops,” Mr. Lugar said.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and said, “Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job, and the president has great confidence in him.”

Democrats and some Republicans criticized Mr. Rumsfeld for his Dec. 8 answer to a question posed during a visit to Kuwait by Tennessee National Guard Spc. Thomas “Jerry” Wilson, about equipping vehicles with armor.

Administration critics said his response that “you go to war with the army you have” was flippant and passed the buck for the Army’s state from the Pentagon’s civilian leadership to the military itself.

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and an Armed Services Committee member, said the secretary’s replies to the guardsman were “dismissive.”

“There’s a young man who’s going up into a dangerous place, and you can’t just ignore his comments and make a glib remark,” Mr. Reed said.

No Republicans have called for Mr. Rumsfeld to resign, but the defense secretary’s handling of the war has been criticized by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, where ArmorWorks, the company supplying armor for the vehicles, is located. Mr. Rumsfeld also was criticized by Republican Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine.

“I’m not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld,” Mr. Lott told the Biloxi, Miss., Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t think he listens enough to his uniformed officers.”

“This Week” host George Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Card, “What does it mean that so many Republicans have such a problem [with Mr. Rumsfeld]?” The White House official said, “I think you’re overstating it a little bit.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and ranking Foreign Affairs Committee member, and Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, appearing on “Meet the Press,” also criticized Mr. Rumsfeld.

“I’m tired of talking about Rumsfeld,” Mr. Biden said. The thing “that bothers me about it is this arrogance of not acknowledging obvious mistakes. I mean, that’s the part that bothers me.”

Mr. Levin hesitated to call for Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster, and said changes in policy should be made at the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Friday they are confident in Mr. Rumsfeld’s ability to lead U.S. military forces to victory in Iraq.

“Most importantly, he has the confidence of his commanders in the field and our commander in chief,” Mr. Frist said.

Appearing yesterday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, said the military is moving quickly to equip vehicles with armor. Nearly 15,000 now have plate armor to protect against explosives.

“I think this secretary is very sensitive to the needs of the military. He seems insensitive when he makes comments, and that seems to be what gets him in trouble,” Mr. Chambliss said.

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