WASHINGTON – Newly empowered Democrats expressed satisfaction Wednesday at news Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is resigning, a testament they say to the Bush administration's recognition that Tuesday's midterm congressional rout was a mandate for change.
"If the vote of last night from all over America didn't accomplish anything but this, it was a good night. But we accomplished far more than this. 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," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who may be the next majority leader if Democrats win the undecided Virginia election.
President Bush announced Wednesday only hours after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives that Rumsfeld will step down, and former CIA Director Robert Gates will be nominated to replace him.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she and Reid have long believed that Rumsfeld's departure would give a "fresh start" to the United States' approach to the Iraq war. Pelosi is poised to become the first woman speaker of the House.
"Senator Reid and I have long called for a change of civilian leadership at the Pentagon. In fact, we put it in writing to the president recently," Pelosi said, noting that civilian editors at the nation's military newspapers also called for Rumsfeld to step down.
"Clearly, the eloquent voice of the Army Times, Marine Times, the Air Force Times and the Navy Times was heard by the president, and perhaps by Mr. Rumsfeld," Pelosi said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in addition to Rumsfeld's leaving, perhaps now is the time for the United States to draw up a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
"A timetable I think is welcomed by everybody," Feinstein, D-Calif., said. She said a timetable should include dates for when the Iraqi army would be ready to take over, when security forces should be sufficiently trained, when the Iraqi government can settle the sectarian violence that is causing dozens of deaths a day and when U.S. troops will begin coming home.
"I hope ... that we'll have everybody out by the end of '07. I think that's realistic. I think it's practical, and I think it's can-do," Feinstein said.
Beleaguered Republicans, who will take the opposition bench in the House in January and will at best be one-up in the Senate, gave in to the notice that it was time for Rumsfeld to go.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised Rumsfeld, but said he hoped the move will allow change for the better.
"Secretary Rumsfeld has served our nation with tremendous distinction. During an era of unprecedented threats, his leadership and focus provided a critical anchor. I thank Secretary Rumsfeld for his many years of service, and wish him happiness and success in his future endeavors," Frist said in a statement.
"I hope that this change will bring a fresh perspective to our fight on the global War on Terror and help build a bipartisan defense policy in the months ahead," the retiring senator added, suggesting that Gates win swift confirmation.
Fellow Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he and Frist are consulting on the best way to get Gates confirmed before the end of the year
"We're at war," Warner reminded reporters. He said that pending a background check and financial record review, he plans to start hearings "in the coming weeks."
Sen. Carl Levin, ranking Democrat and possibly the next chairman of the Armed Services panel, said he shares that goal, no matter the outcome of the election. The Senate returns to Washington next week for a lame duck session.
Warner added he spoke with Rumsfeld and wished him well. He said he was not surprised by the president's decision.
"I've said ... so many times, having been in public office now well over 30 years, I do not get surprised by any development," Warner said.
He also said he believed the president "chose wisely" in replacing Rumsfeld with Gates, with whom Warner spoke on Wednesday morning.
"He called me up, and we chatted together, and I assured him that if confirmed, that I look forward to working with him," Warner said.
California Rep. Jane Harman, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, gave a vote of confidence to Gates, currently the president of Texas A&M University, to head the Pentagon.
"Bob Gates would not give up the presidency of a huge educational institution that he loves without an assurance that he will be empowered, as secretary of defense, to make significant changes at the Pentagon," Harman said.
"First, he will respect the role of civilian intelligence agencies, including the CIA. Second, he will listen to the uniformed military leadership about critical matters. Third, he will engage with Congress as he has done on a bipartisan basis in the past. Finally, he will bring some humility to a challenging job and not act as though that he alone has all the answers," she said.
Sen. Joseph Biden, the top-ranked Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he too was optimistic about the change.
"I'm not suggesting he has a radically different view. All I'm suggesting is that he has a much more ... pragmatic and realistic view of the place we find ourselves. And the first thing I'm looking for is pragmatism. And I also think that he will understand that he's going to need the work and cooperation of the uniformed military, and I know they have a different view. So, therefore, I think the combination of those two things leaves him much more open to thinking differently," Biden said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said Rumsfeld's replacement will have to confront a number of challenging issues.
"Voters across America sent a strong message on Tuesday that they wanted change in our nation's leadership," Hoekstra said, according to a statement. "The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld will not solve every military issue that we face, but a new perspective may be a step in the right direction."
"The nominee to replace him, former CIA Director Robert Gates, will need to continue to confront the many very real threats against America, including radical Islam, North Korea and Iran. I wish him the best during the confirmation process."
Weekly Standard Editor and FOX News contributor Bill Kristol said Rumsfeld's resignation, while swift, was a political inevitability that emerged from the midterm election.
"I'm surprised the president was planning this already. ... I think he realized he was to win this war on Iraq, and he just couldn't build enough political support for what he was to do in Iraq with Secretary Rumsfeld there," Kristol said.
Also speaking with FOX News, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger agreed Bush's hand was forced by the election, but said he doesn't believe Bush's policy will change much.
"I'm betting he does not" change dramatically, Eagleburger said. "He may try to be a bit more open with the opposition now, but ... I think he's so committed to winning that he's going to stay with it."
Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner said Gates might start off on better footing than Rumsfeld had because of his long resume within the Defense Department that includes working for both Republicans and Democrats.
"Bob Gates is an intelligence professional ... one of the only people from the analytic side [of the CIA] who's ever risen to the top levels," Turner said.
"He's got a broad background in world affairs. He's a man of great integrity. I think he will do a splendid job," Turner said.
FOX News' Trish Turner and Greg Simmons contributed to this report .