Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived on Capitol Hill yesterday expecting to meet not only with Republican supporters of the Iraq war, but also with Democrats highly critical of his post-Saddam Hussein decisions.
When Mr. Rumsfeld arrived with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace at the meeting place, the office of Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, three invited Democrats did not show up.
The meeting was planned by Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, after he led a congressional delegation to Iraq from Nov. 27 to 30 that included Democratic Reps. Adam Smith of Washington, Kendrick B. Meek of Florida and Tim Ryan of Ohio.
A Republican aide said Mr. Shuster invited the three to yesterday’s meeting but got a firm “no” from Mr. Meek and Mr. Ryan.
Mr. Smith told Mr. Shuster he had a prior commitment. A Smith spokesman said yesterday that the congressman had to attend an event with a Republican lawmaker. “He really wanted to go,” the spokesman said, noting that Mr. Smith voted for using force in Iraq, but has been critical of Mr. Rumsfeld’s war stewardship.
Mr. Smith released a statement upon his return from Iraq that said, in part, “Progress is being made in Iraq. However, the Bush administration’s failure of leadership has made the tasks of our servicemen and women more difficult than it had to be.”
Mr. Meek released a statement to The Washington Times that said:
“I’ve been a member of the House Armed Services Committee for almost three years, and I thought it was strange that Secretary Rumsfeld would now suddenly want to meet with me on Iraq — and invite the national media, too — when for all these years he never showed any interest in my views.
“I spent time with the troops in Iraq just a few days ago, and I let the secretary know that I would be happy to meet with him to talk about it. But I am not interested in becoming a backdrop for what had the appearance of a White House public relations campaign on the president’s war policy.”
Mr. Ryan’s spokesman did not respond to questions from The Times.
In recent weeks, the White House has started a counteroffensive against Democratic charges that President Bush misled the country about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and mismanaged the Iraq war, where more than 2,000 American service members have died. Mr. Bush has slated a series of speeches on Iraq, listing progress, and some mistakes. Mr. Rumsfeld delivered a major address Monday in which he criticized the press for overly negative coverage of the war on Islamic terrorists.