Sunday, September 3, 2006

Congressional Democrats plan to hold a vote of “no confidence” on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as early as this week, while party leaders say national security now plays in their favor as a campaign issue against Republicans this fall.

“I think security is an issue that now finally works for the Democrats,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” yesterday. “They’ve been there for five years, these Republicans. And the question is: Are we safer now? And the answer is no.”

Republicans were quick to disagree with Mr. Dean’s take on national security.

“People need to remember what Democrats do when they’re in the majority,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told CBS. “They’ll wave the white flag in the war on terror.”

Many Democrats were angered by recent comments from Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney that seemingly compared critics of the Iraq war to appeasers of Nazi Germany during World War II. Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, announced her intentions to push forward a resolution this week, as Congress returns from its August recess, condemning Mr. Rumsfeld’s handling of the war.

Democrats in the House are considering a similar resolution.

When asked whether Democrats would support the resolution, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday” that there is “a lot of sentiment to push for such a resolution, indeed.”

When asked by moderator Chris Wallace what kind of message a vote of “no confidence” in Mr. Rumsfeld would send, Mr. Schumer said, “It says that our policies are not going well, and it’s not just Democrats that have called for Rumsfeld to step down. … And the reason is not that we shouldn’t fight a strong war on terror, but Rumsfeld’s not doing a very good job of it.”

Democrats say they hope discontent over Iraq and the growing threats posed by Iran and North Korea will provide them a window of opportunity with voters on national security, an issue that usually benefits Republicans.

“The big battle is going to be: Will the Democrats set a new direction in security?” Mr. Dean said. “And the issue is: Yes, we will.”

Mr. Schumer said Republican leadership doesn’t have a “real plan” in Iraq.

“It’s worse now than it was before. … And then in the rest of foreign policy, we’re worse off with North Korea and Iran, which are gaining in terms of gaining nuclear weapons,” he said.

Republicans have accused Democrats of advocating U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq without any concrete plan for winning the war on terror. When asked to respond to the Democrats’ national security agenda, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina Republican, told “Fox News Sunday,” “They have an agenda. They just can’t talk about it. … I mean, the American people wouldn’t buy it if they talked about it.”

Meanwhile, both parties continued to debate whether Mr. Rumsfeld deserves to remain in office. Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, told CNN’s “Late Edition” that the administration should remove Mr. Rumsfeld as part of a larger Iraq strategy shift.

“The fact is, they should be held accountable for their own incompetence in terms of Iraq,” he said. “And it starts with Secretary Rumsfeld.”

As evidence of Democrats’ plan to use Mr. Rumsfeld as a campaign issue this fall, Bob Casey Jr., Pennsylvania treasurer and Democratic Senate challenger, brought up Mr. Rumsfeld during his debate with incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Accountability, I think, means replacing Donald Rumsfeld,” Mr. Casey told moderator Tim Russert. In response, Mr. Santorum said, “I think Secretary Rumsfeld has done a fine job as the defense secretary.”

Not all Rumsfeld critics think he should step down.

“I’m not his biggest fan,” Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, told CNN. “But I’m not sure that, with two years left in the administration, he should.”

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