President Bush says Democratic Party gains in the U.S. Congress are in part the result of voter disillusionment with the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush says it is time for a big change at the Pentagon.
A new political reality is taking hold in Washington.
Democrats are preparing to take control in the House of Representatives, and Donald Rumsfeld is on his way out at the Department of Defense.
"Now, after a series of thoughtful conversations, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that the timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon," said President Bush.
At a post-election news conference, President Bush praised Rumsfeld, one of the longest-serving defense secretaries in U.S. history. But Mr. Bush added he believes a fresh perspective is needed at the Defense Department.
The president said he wants the top job to go to Robert Gates, who was chief of the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1990s. In making the announcement, he acknowledged the election was, in part, a referendum on Iraq, saying he agrees his policy has not moved fast enough or produced enough progress.
Opposition to the war is credited by many with fueling Democratic victories across the country. But President Bush stressed that does not mean America will pull its troops out now, saying the enemy should not find joy in the fact Democrats are about to take control of the House of Representatives.
"No leader in Washington is going to walk away from protecting the country," he said. "We have different views on how to do that, but their spirit is such that they want to protect America. That is what I believe."
President Bush said he was disappointed with the election results, saying as the nation's leading Republican he bears part of the blame.
But he signaled a willingness to move beyond the bitter rhetoric of the campaign. Mr. Bush said he will begin consultations with Democratic Party leaders on Thursday, and he emphasized he wants to seek common ground.
"By putting this election and partisanship behind us, we can launch a new era of cooperation and make these next two years productive ones for the American people," he said.
The congresswoman who is expected to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives welcomed the overture. Nancy Pelosi said her goal is not partisanship, but partnership.
"Democrats are not about getting even," she said. "Democrats are about helping the American people get ahead and that is what our agenda is about."
Pelosi had been calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, and she responded quickly to word that he was leaving the Pentagon. She said his departure marks a fresh start to efforts to resolve the situation in Iraq.