WASHINGTON – No sooner had the likely next speaker of the House expressed her wish for Donald Rumsfeld to resign as defense secretary than President Bush announced Rumsfeld planned to step down.
"I welcome this change, I think it will give a fresh start to finding a solution to Iraq, rather than staying the course," Rep. Nancy Pelosi told reporters Wednesday after hearing the news. "If the vote of last night from all over America didn't accomplish anything but this, it was a good night."
Ripples from the overwhelming victory by Democrats to regain the majority in the House next Congress were being felt throughout Washington on Wednesday. President Bush announced at a White House press conference that Rumsfeld was stepping down and former CIA Director Robert Gates was being nominated to replace him.
Pelosi said she wanted Rumsfeld's replacement to change the course in Iraq.
"I recognize that the country is going to be well served by a new secretary of defense. I look forward to working with that person," Pelosi said. "But also, I look to working with the president to see if the new secretary of defense will help work to change course in Iraq. We have to do that."
In her first press conference since a new congressional majority was elected Tuesday night, Pelosi made clear that Democrats viewed the election as a mandate on Iraq.
"There has to be a signal of a change in direction on the part of the president and one good place to start ... is to change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. That would signal an openness to new fresh ideas on the subject," Pelosi said just minutes before Rumsfeld's resignation was announced by the White House.
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Pelosi said nowhere was exit polling more clear about voter wishes than on the war there.
"We must not continue on this catastrophic path," she said.
Democrats also wanted to stress a "responsible redeployment of our troops" out of Iraq, she said.
Across Capitol Hill, Pelosi's counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid, said Democrats want President Bush to convene a summit of congressional leaders to come up with solutions for the war.
"I would have no problem if he invited Secretary Baker and Congressman Hamilton to that," Reid said of the co-chairmen of the congressionally-commissioned Iraq Study Group. "They're going to suggest, as we're going to suggest to the president personally at the summit: We got to work together to change direction in Iraq."
Pelosi said she looked forward to speaking face to face with Bush on Thursday. The two talked on Wednesday morning when Bush called to congratulate Pelosi after Democrats won control of the House for the first time in 12 years.
The Democratic caucus is meeting on Nov. 16 to elect their leadership. Pelosi will formally be chosen as party leader and the nominee for speaker. If she wins that post in January, she will become the first female House speaker. That will build on her history-making turn as the first female leader of a party in either chamber of Commerce and the soon-to-be highest ranking female ever in government.
The speaker's post is third in line for the presidency, following the vice president.
While Pelosi is unopposed, other leadership posts are being hotly contested. Current minority whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and leading Iraq war critic John Murtha of Pennsylvania are vying for the position of majority leader.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is in line to become majority whip, but might be challenged by Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who as party campaign committee chairman directed the Democrats' successful election effort.
Speaking frequently about "civility, integrity and bipartisanship" during her press conference, Pelosi said Democratic priorities in the 110th Congress also include more attention to ethical issues, an increase in the minimum wage, adoption of the 9/11 commission's anti-terrorism agenda and cheaper drug prices out of Medicare's prescription drug coverage.
"I think that we identified with the concerns of the American people, whether it was jobs, health care, education, energy independence, dignified retirement and making our country safer," she said.
"We certainly have a mandate for making this place more honest, making it operate in a more civil and bipartisan way and doing so in a way that does not heap mountains of debt onto future generations," she said.
She stressed that Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert were both very cordial and gracious, and she wished them well.
"The success of the president is always good for the country and I hoped that we could work together for the American people," she said.
Hastert confided in fellow Republican leaders that he won't run for minority leader, officials said Wednesday. Current House Majority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana wiill vie to replace him as GOP leader, they said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.