Political Musical Chairs: Out With the Old, In With the New

President Bush managed to bump news of his party's election losses off the front pages, however briefly, with the announcement that embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would step down.

As an unusually demure Rumsfeld exits -- to be replaced by former CIA Director Robert Gates, pending confirmation -- the media spotlight shifts back to self-assured, presumptive Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her take on the bombshell.

Pelosi made it plain that the move was just the sort of olive branch she'd like.

"The American people spoke, and if there was one thing clear about their vote, it was that there should be a new direction in Iraq," Pelosi told ABC's "Nightline" on Wednesday. "One manifestation of that would be a change in civilian leadership at the Pentagon."


Bush, for his part, conceded he had been talking with Rumsfeld about a change before the election, contrary to his prevote denials.

"I had been talking with Don Rumsfeld over a period of time about fresh perspective," Bush said Wednesday at a news conference.

Rumsfeld graciously praised Bush, saying, "The great respect that I have for your leadership, Mr. President. … In this little understood … unfamiliar war."

With the announcement, the president was able to change the subject from the Democrats' victory at the polls.

"It's kind of like he's a wedding crasher," TIME Magazine Managing Editor Richard Stengel told ABC News. "It's the Democrats' wedding, and he's jumped in with a whole new news story."

"[Bush] called to congratulate me, referred to me as 'Madame Speaker-elect.' … And I referred to him as Mr. President," Pelosi said, laughing. "I said that I want to work with him and the Republicans in Congress in a bipartisan way."

Similarly, the president expressed a desire Wednesday to put aside his hostile past with Pelosi.

Bush told reporters on Wednesday, "If you hold grudges in this line of work, you never get anything done."

To back that up, Bush has invited Pelosi to have lunch with him today at the White House.

Observers say that the voters have spoken and Washington is listening.

"They're also both realizing what the American people said," Stengel said. "They want the spirit of pragmatism. They want people to cooperate. They want solutions. They don't want debate."

Rumsfeld Resignation Is 'Giant Shift'

Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, author of the controversial book "State of Denial," called Rumsfeld's resignation "a new realism … on the part of Bush."

Woodward reported in his book that White House officials, including Chief of Staff Andrew Card, had been lobbying to remove Rumsfeld, for some time.

"Iraq so dominates what's going on in the country. … They had to do something," Woodward told "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer. "It's not cosmetic. … [But] they still have the problem of our 140,000 troops over there."

Woodward said Gates, Rumsfeld's possible replacement, was the exact opposite of his predecessor.

"Rumsfeld was this person who had contempt for Congress, didn't like the interagency process. … So now they have come up with the opposite of Rumsfeld. Bob Gates. … This is the giant shift," he said.

Still, despite what he perceives as Gates' and Rumsfeld's different approaches to government, Woodward is unsure what the exit strategy for Iraq would be.

"I'm not sure it exists, quite frankly," he said. "This is a violent country. It turns out [that] … we are not welcomed with sweets and flowers. … We've been welcomed with bombs and bullets so somehow we have to find a way to extract ourselves."