McCain supports hearing on Rumsfeld

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that he would support a hearing featuring the seven retired generals calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld — with one caveat.

McCain said he would be in favor of the testimony on Rumsfeld’s performance “if it is a hearing that is balanced,” adding that it would have to include testimony from officials who back the secretary of defense.

The relationship between McCain and Rumsfeld has never been friendly and at times has been hostile over policy issues, programs and nominations.

McCain went so far as to say publicly that he had no confidence in Rumsfeld, citing the secretary’s handling of the Iraq war and his failure to send more troops into Iraq in 2004. However, McCain never asked for the resignation of the fellow former Navy pilot, saying that it is President’s Bush prerogative to keep Rumsfeld.

The question of whether Rumsfeld should go was a major topic of conversation when McCain recently appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y), a junior member of the armed-services panel and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, like McCain, has asked Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the panel’s chairman, to hold a hearing with the generals calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation.

Clinton’s position on Rumsfeld echoes McCain’s. She is not among the Democrats calling for Rumsfeld’s head. Clinton said at a press conference in New York that the decision is up to Bush.

Democrats are looking to highlight Rumsfeld’s performance this election year. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is planning to seek a nonbinding vote of no confidence in Rumsfeld on the floor.

Meanwhile, Warner, known for his independent streak at times, has vowed to discuss the possibility of a hearing with all his panel’s members.

Warner spokesman John Ullyot said the senator is going to decide on whether to support the hearing after he has consulted with his committee members over the next week. Ullyot also disputed media reports that there is going to be a committee vote to decide the issue.

In the past several months, Rumsfeld has come under intense criticism for his handing of the war in Iraq, his management style and strategic decisions. Bush reportedly refused to accept Rumsfeld’s resignation after the detainee-abuse scandal surfaced.

The retired generals calling for Rumsfeld’s ouster are Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command; Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who has worked closely with Rumsfeld; Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, an operations officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton; Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack; and former Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs. Marine Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper recently joined the dissenting chorus, bringing the number of retired generals seeking Rumsfeld’s ouster to seven.

Rumsfeld said that he thinks the calls for his head will blow over. But if Warner decides to hold a hearing on Rumsfeld’s performance and invite the seven generals, the issue is unlikely to die down anytime soon. The 11 committee Democrats are likely to support a hearing with the retired generals, and ABC News reported that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) would also agree to it.

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