Senators So Very, Very Not Contrary Toward Gates

Bob Gates, left, talks to Sens. John Warner, center, and Carl Levin before the Defense nominee's confirmation hearing.
Bob Gates, left, talks to Sens. John Warner, center, and Carl Levin before the Defense nominee's confirmation hearing. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

And so it came to pass, in the 12th month of the sixth year of the reign of Bush, that a prophet came forth to deliver us from the war in Babylon.

Actually, it was only Bob Gates at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the rapturous senators seemed to regard the president's second defense secretary as a harbinger of the Second Coming.

"We're very pleased," Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) said twice.

"Very, very pleased," added soon-to-be-chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

"We're very grateful," proffered John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"We're all very impressed," Warner continued.

"Very proud," contributed Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). "Very enthusiastic . . . and very happy."

Gates earned these very, very nice words because of one very important attribute: He is not Donald Rumsfeld. He gave no wiseacre answers, asked himself no questions and said nothing to disparage the "Army you have." Instead, he made the obvious statement that the Bush administration, until yesterday, had refused to utter: We are not winning in Iraq. Where Rummy was incurably aloof -- he originally used an automatic signature machine to sign letters to the kin of dead troops -- Gates sounded human.

"The pressures of the hearing are nothing compared to the pressures I got from a woman who came over to me at the hotel while I was having dinner the other night, seated by myself," the nominee said. "She congratulated me on my nomination and she said, 'I have two sons in Iraq. For God's sake, bring them home safe.' "

The room went quiet as Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had been questioning Gates, smiled and nodded in agreement. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) joined the nodding, and the smiles spread down both sides of the dais as Gates vowed independence. "I can assure you that I don't owe anybody anything," the nominee promised.

Gates, who won the committee's unanimous support by day's end, was confident enough about his prospects that he told the senators his wife had skipped the hearing to accompany "the Texas A&M women's basketball team to an away game in Seattle."

The senators, too, exhibited few signs of tension: Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) read a news clipping about himself headlined "Nelson Defeats Harris," then perused a housing report. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) worked his way through a box of candy and a large cup of coffee. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) thumbed their BlackBerrys. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) rehearsed her questions, written in large type on numbered index cards. An evidently distracted Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke of communing with fallen troops. "I talk to those who've lost their lives, and they have that sense of duty and mission," he reported.

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