Democrats Set to Take On Rumsfeld

ByABC News
September 5, 2006, 5:58 PM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2006 — -- In one of those classic Washington moments of irony, Donald Rumsfeld handed over his Pentagon duties for a few hours today to his deputy. The defense secretary was having elective surgery on a torn rotator cuff, the result of an old athletic injury.

But while a bum shoulder is unlikely to hamper Rumsfeld's reign beyond today, he may face a tougher challenge from the opposition party in Congress.

Democrats plan to make the secretary of defense the target of their latest Iraq attack by offering a resolution in the Senate expressing "no confidence" in the administration's Iraq policy, and in Rumsfeld's ability to do his job.

Democrats say they hope to bring the measure up Wednesday. It is unlikely to pass, and Democrats may not even be able to get a vote on the measure if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist uses a parliamentary maneuver to dismiss it.

"I would hope that Sen. Frist would allow a vote," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said. "If [Republicans] are not for it, let them say why they have confidence in Rumsfeld."

Republicans have called the move a partisan stunt.

"It's a pure political game," Frist said. "I just hope [Democrats] don't do it."

Since the measure would be nonbinding -- a "sense of the Senate" only -- Republicans argue that it's meaningless. Congress cannot fire Cabinet secretaries, who serve at the pleasure of the president.

"It doesn't mean squat," said one senior GOP Senate aide. "It's the biggest waste of time. We already know Democrats don't like Rumsfeld and Republicans do."

But Democrats see it as an important symbolic move, in line with Congress' oversight responsibility.

"We think the civilian leadership [at the Pentagon] has failed, and we will do our very best to have a vote on that," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters.

Privately, many Democrats also hope the measure will, at the very least, put Republicans who are in tight races in a difficult spot. Even if not forced to vote, they may face questions from reporters about their views on the secretary's tenure.