Today's Papers

Defensive Shuffle

On the second straight day of banner headlines, all the papers lead with the announcement by President Bush that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will be leaving office. Meanwhile, Wednesday continued to be a good day for Democrats as the incumbent Republican senator in Montana lost his seat, and Jim Webb looked poised to become Virginia’s senator. Incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen has not officially conceded, but everyone reports the Associated Press declared Webb’s victory yesterday after canvassing election officials in Virginia. If Webb, who has taken to calling himself “senator-elect,” does win the race, it would give the Democrats control of the Senate.

During his news conference, President Bush said the election results were a “thumping” for his party, and announced Rumsfeld would be leaving. To replace him, he has put forward former CIA director Robert M. Gates. The Washington Postgoes high with a psychological analysis of Bush at the news conference and declares, “If anything, he seemed to greet defeat with an air of relief, as though the results had allowed him to abandon an all-is-well pretense.” The New York Timeshas, by far, the best insidery details from within the Oval Office, describing the meeting Bush held with advisers yesterday morning, and the way in which Bush and Gates met secretly in Crawford on Sunday.

In the top spot of its worldwide newsbox, the Wall Street Journal reports Bush said he was adamant in his support of Rumsfeld because he did not want an announcement to affect the elections. USA Todaysays by replacing Rumsfeld, the White House is going further than most expected when it announced two weeks ago Bush would no longer “stay the course” in Iraq. The Los Angeles Timespoints out a power struggle is likely to take place in the Republican Party now that House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced he would step down from the GOP’s leadership.

For what it’s worth, by declaring “BUSH OUSTS EMBATTLED RUMSFELD” in its headline, the WP is the only paper that comes close to saying the defense secretary was fired, while the other papers prefer to use some form of the word “resigned.”

Even though just days ago Bush adamantly stated Rumsfeld would stay on for the rest of his administration, White House officials admit they had been discussing his resignation for weeks. To emphasize this wasn’t a result of the “thumping,” Bush declared, “win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.” White House officials say they still have not decided whether they will present Gates for Senate confirmation as soon as possible or wait until the new Congress goes into session next year.

As Webb led Sen. George Allen by 7,236 votes yesterday, the GOP sent out teams of lawyers to look for any glitches or math errors that could bring more votes to their camp. But several Republicans privately tell the papers they don’t think there are enough votes to turn it around, and some say Allen could concede as early as today.

With the Democrats slated to take control of Congress, talk in Washington turned to the need for bipartisanship. Although it might be possible for Democrats and Bush to reach compromises on issues such as the minimum wage and immigration policy, the biggest divide continues to be Iraq, which the WP’s Dan Balz says will be the “acid test.”

In a Page-One analysis of Rumsfeld’s tenure, the WP declares the defense secretary “was being offered as a sacrificial lamb.” Although Rumsfeld came into office vowing to change the way the Pentagon worked, many believe he didn’t succeed because he managed to make enemies and alienate staff members from his first day in office. If confirmed, Gates’ priority must be to gain the military’s trust, says the NYT.(Slate’s Phillip Carter examined some of Rumsfeld’s biggest failures.)

Everyone points out the differences between Rumsfeld and his presumptive successor. The NYT says Gates “is in many ways the antithesis” of Rumsfeld. Gates has served six presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, which has given him “shrewd bureaucratic instincts,” according to the Post.Gates also has the advantage of having spent the better part of the last six months debating the Iraq war, as a member of the Iraq Study Group. Clearly the group’s recommendations are more likely to get a positive reception at the Department of Defense if Gates becomes secretary, especially because Rumsfeld was famously reticent to accept any suggestions or criticisms. (Slate’s Fred Kaplan says Gates is the best replacement for Rumsfeld.)

The NYT and WSJ point out Democrats also had big victories in statehouses across the country yesterday. Some of these victories came in the South, where Democrats had constantly lost ground since 1982.

Everyone notes a suicide bomber attacked an area filled with army recruits in northwest Pakistan yesterday morning, killing at least 42 soldiers. Officials said this was most likely a retaliation for the government missile attack on Oct. 30 that killed 82 people at an Islamic school.

The NYT fronts, and everyone else covers, the repercussions of the Israeli tank shells that killed 18 Palestinians, including eight children and six women, in Gaza yesterday (the LAT caught the late-breaking news yesterday). Some leaders of Hamas called on their followers to renew suicide attacks inside Israel. The Hamas military wing also took the unusual step of saying the United States should be taught “hard lessons” for supporting Israel.

Over in the WP’s Style section, Linton Weeks has a humorous look at some of the highlights from Rumsfeld’s six-year tenure as defense secretary. Weeks characterizes Rumsfeld as “secretary of offense” because he was aggressive as well as patronizing with reporters and anyone who dared criticize him. It’s a good walk down memory lane of the combative secretary’s most famous quotes, such as when he declared: “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Excited for Democracy … When Chris Matthews heard a prediction on Tuesday night that Democrats would win big, the former Democratic staffer reacted, “That’ll be fantastic news. Uh, it’ll be huge news, I should say,” according to the WP’s Reliable Source.