Congress Welcomes Gates Amid Calls for Change
Despite deep differences over how to proceed in Iraq, the Senate gives its unanimous approval for Robert Gates to take over the reins at the Pentagon from Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush's second Secretary of Defense is taking office at a time of uncertainty over what will happen next in the war.
As the number of lawmakers frustrated with the war in Iraq has grown, so has the desire for change, especially after the midterm elections.
Gates, the man President Bush nominated one day after Election Day to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is clearly a beneficiary of that bipartisan push for change.
Gates' nomination was not so much debated on the Senate floor Wednesday as it was celebrated.
"I'm confident he will indeed be fearless, absolutely fearless in providing expert advice, professional advice, his own deep most innermost most personal feelings about the complex issues that face our nation," said Virginia's John Warner, the outgoing Republican chair of the armed services committee.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who opposed Gates' nomination to be CIA director 15 years ago, this time called Gates essential to resolving the thorniest issue facing the nation:
"Iraq is the defining issue of our time, and the person that will have a major voice in meeting the enormous responsibilities of recommending a new course will be the new leader we are confirming today as the secretary of defense," Kennedy said.
Another Democrat who opposed Gates in 1991 -- Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who has been tapped to replace Warner as Armed Services chairman -- said voters had demanded a change in Iraq and a change of tone in Washington:
"Dr. Gates' confirmation as secretary of defense will not by itself solve our problems in Iraq," Levin said. "Indeed, as he acknowledged, the key decisions on Iraq will continue to be made by the president of the United States, not by the secretary of defense. On the key issues of Iraq, and the atmosphere in Washington, however, his testimony was very encouraging indeed."
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), one of President Bush's close allies in the Senate, reflected the view of many GOP figures that Gates seemed their last best hope for helping save a presidency foundering on the mess in Iraq.
"I think Bob Gates is the right person to advise the president, to work with the president, to implement the president's policies... and bring this war to a conclusion, a conclusion that is a victory," Hutchinson said.
What a victory might amount to, no one was prepared to say.
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