Democrats Target Rumsfeld

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By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 2006

Under assault from Republicans on issues of national security, congressional Democrats are planning to push for a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this month as part of a broad effort to stay on the offensive ahead of the November midterm elections.

In Rumsfeld, Democrats believe they have found both a useful antagonist and a stand-in for President Bush and what they see as his blunders in Iraq. This week, Democrats interpreted a speech of his as equating critics of the war in Iraq to appeasers of Adolf Hitler, an interpretation that Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff disputed. But Democrats said the hyperbolic attack would backfire.

But even before that, Democrats and some Republicans had maintained that Bush has never held anyone in his administration accountable for decisions in the Iraq war that many military analysts say went disastrously wrong. The decisions include not mobilizing enough troops to keep the peace, disbanding the entire Iraqi army and purging all members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party -- including teachers and low-level technocrats -- from the Iraqi government.

"Secretary Rumsfeld's stewardship of this effort is a failure, and he has let down our armed forces," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who is pushing for the no-confidence move.

By demanding accountability, Democrats hope to blunt what has been an all-out assault on their positions on national security. The Republican National Committee yesterday blasted Democrats again as "Defeatocrats," and the attacks will continue when Congress returns next week from its month-long recess. Republican leaders plan to consider a full slate of security-related legislation before leaving on Sept. 29 for the campaigns.

The legislative calendars in the House and Senate include defense spending bills, the annual defense policy bill, legislation to authorize the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program and a measure to bring Bush's military tribunals into compliance with a Supreme Court ruling that declared the initial tribunals unconstitutional.

"Now is not the time for a weak and indecisive approach that has been offered by Capitol Hill Democrats, and that's why Republicans are working to keep America safe through policies based on strength and purpose, rather than confusion and defeat," House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday, as he laid out the final legislative push before the campaigns.

Rather than change the subject to domestic issues, as they have tried in past years, Democrats are hoping to confront Republicans head-on.

"We will not be Swift-boated on this issue," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview, alluding to the assault by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the Vietnam war record of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. "We will fight them on national security."

Front and center of that campaign may be the attack on Rumsfeld. Some Democratic House candidates, such as Diane Farrell in Connecticut's 4th District, have been encouraging Democratic leaders to move formally for a vote of no confidence. And party leadership aides said they are canvassing Democratic members of Congress and exploring the parliamentary mechanism to do so. Before the move is set, the aides said, they want to hear from Democrats in tough races who may feel that the move would leave them vulnerable to Republican attacks.

But Emanuel said the move is set. And he hopes to stage the resolution with as many as 12 retired generals and other military officers who have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

"We're going to go for a no-confidence vote on Rumsfeld," Emanuel said.

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