- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

A long-simmering rift between senior Republican senators and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld heated up again at a senatorial retreat last week at the Library of Congress.
Sens. John W. Warner and Ted Stevens told President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., that they will no longer tolerate the disrespect and secrecy on military matters they've come to expect from the Bush White House, senior Senate Republican staffers close to the situation said.
Mr. Warner, of Virginia, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War who was recently elected to his fifth Senate term, is the Republican Party's leading voice on defense issues. He expressed displeasure over Congress being continually kept "out of the loop" on important military matters, the staffers said.
Mr. Stevens, of Alaska, newly elected president pro tempore of the Senate, was reported to be "furious" that Mr. Rumsfeld had eliminated funding for two of the eight proposed high-tech Army brigades mandated by Congress. The brigades are built around the new eight-wheeled Stryker combat vehicles.
With war looming in Iraq, the secrecy and "arrogance" of the Pentagon is especially frustrating and inappropriate, said a Republican source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Another Senate aide familiar with what happened at the retreat said eight to nine members voiced complaints about the lack of "information flow" from the White House on war plans.
"Their concern was there are a lot of momentous decisions to be made, but they need more information," the source said.
A Pentagon staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, disagreed that Congress has not been thoroughly briefed on defense matters. The staffer cited 150 to 160 face-to-face meetings with either Mr. Rumsfeld or Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2002.
That's in addition to the "hundreds and thousands" of contacts between Congress and lower-level Pentagon officials over the past year, the staffer said.
"I don't think these theories are supported by the facts," he said. "There may be members [of Congress] who don't necessarily like some of the decisions being made, but it is not accurate to say they've been kept out of the loop."
There has been a string of conflicts during the past two years between congressional Republicans and the White House over military matters.
In June 2001, Mr. Bush decided to end the Navy's live-bombing exercise at Puerto Rico's Vieques island without consulting Congress.
Mr. Warner questioned whether the exercises could be halted without congressional approval. Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, vowed to reinstate them, saying he was "sick about" the president's decision. But Mr. Bush's Vieques policy still holds.
In July 2001, House and Senate members chafed when Pentagon staffers told them that Mr. Rumsfeld had referred to them as "hillbillies." Mr. Rumsfeld denied using the pejorative, but many staffers and lawmakers on Capitol Hill voiced disbelief, accusing him of adopting a "who needs them" approach to Congress.
In May, senior Pentagon officials decided to eliminate the Crusader self-propelled howitzer, a weapon that Army generals and many congressional Republicans contended was essential to military readiness.
In November, a consultant who helped Mr. Rumsfeld hire top civilians in the Pentagon called Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, "corrupt" and accused him of "a staggering abuse of power" for trying to get a former staffer a Pentagon job.
According to other Republican sources, the senators are also upset that this latest conflict between Congress and the executive branch was leaked to the press. It was first reported by columnist Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times.
The meeting with the White House staffers was "supposed to be private" to ensure that the senators could speak openly without worrying how their concerns would be perceived.
Mr. Warner, particularly, didn't want to seem as if he were anything less than 100 percent supportive of how Mr. Bush has handled the war on terror, a Senate Republican aide said.
"I can't imagine a person in the Senate more supportive of what the president is doing," the aide said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a closed-door meeting for tomorrow in which Mr. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be the only two witnesses.
A Senate Republican staffer said the two can expect to hear more such complaints.
Rowan Scarborough contributed to the report.


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