OLYMPIA, Wash. – Mike McGavick, a Republican waging an uphill race for the Senate, called Monday for the replacement of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the creation of a bipartisan panel to propose new directions for the Iraq war.
But the plan drew a quick response from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., who seemed to take issue with an implication that he supported McGavick's ideas.
McGavick said he had talked about his ideas with Warner and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., on Monday following their recent criticism of the administration's handling of the war.
"Senators Warner and Hagel have articulated exactly what the American people are thinking — that things are not getting better in Iraq and a course correction is needed," McGavick said in a statement released by his campaign.
But Warner quickly distanced himself from McGavick's proposal.
"In our conversation, I shared with Mr. McGavick my views on the challenges that remain in Iraq," Warner said in a statement released by his Senate office. "I did not expand my views beyond the parameters of my prior public comments on the issue.
"Secretary Rumsfeld did not come up in any way in our conversation."
Later Monday, McGavick told the Associated Press that his decision to speak out on Iraq was inspired by public comments from Warner and Hagel, but "I never implied that they agreed with me."
Asked if he was breaking with the White House, McGavick said, "I am trying to concentrate on what Congress should be doing when confidence (in President Bush's Iraq policy) is sliding. Congress has been standing by watching this."
Warner and Hagel on Sunday called for a new Iraq strategy. McGavick followed up Monday by saying the war is "worsening by the day" and calling on Bush to listen to critics.
McGavick said in his statement that he had spoken with both senators by phone and that all agreed that new options must be explored.
"When someone like John Warner stands up and says we need a different plan for victory, the president needs to listen," McGavick said. "And this work must begin immediately because we know that the situation is worsening by the day."
Regarding Rumsfeld, McGavick said, "As a show of faith that he is willing to set a new direction, the president should appoint a new secretary of defense, preferably someone who has demonstrated bipartisanship in the past and someone who knows the value of involving Congress in these strategy decisions."
Warner said he told McGavick, as he has told reporters previously, that he will hold a Senate hearing on Iraq in November to get an update from the Pentagon and to hear from a range of other views.
"Mr. McGavick shared with me his idea for a bicameral, bipartisan select committee on Iraq, which I told him was a suggestion which would be exclusively for the bipartisan leadership of the next Congress to evaluate and decide."
McGavick's opponent, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., quickly dismissed the idea of a new study commission and said McGavick remains hopelessly tarred by his connection to Republicans who haven't been able to persuade the administration to change course in Iraq.
"With Washingtonians beginning to vote this week, it sounds like McGavick is trying to change his 'stay the course' position without actually changing his 'stay the course' position," Cantwell said in a press release.
McGavick, who retired as president and CEO of Safeco Corp. to enter the race, trails Cantwell by about 10 points in the polls.