The shock waves from Democratic Party victories in the
congressional midterm elections continued to rock Washington Wednesday.
President Bush announced he is replacing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
as Democrats called for a new approach to the war in Iraq.
With Democrats now controlling a majority in the U.S. House of
Representatives for the first time since 1994, Democratic leader Nancy
Pelosi left little doubt that her party will seek a fresh approach on Iraq
in the months ahead.
"We must not continue on this catastrophic path and so, hopefully, we
can work with the president for a new direction, one that solves the
problems in Iraq," she said.
President Bush agreed on the need for
a "fresh perspective" on Iraq as he announced at a news conference that he
was replacing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has long been the
focus of Democratic criticism over the administration's Iraq policy.
Former CIA Director Robert Gates has been chosen to replace Rumsfeld.
But the president was also quick to dispel any notion of a major shift
on Iraq in the wake of Democratic gains in the election.
Mr. Bush said he is open to cooperating with Democrats on improving the
situation in Iraq provided they share his ultimate goal.
the comments I read said, look, we need a different approach to make sure
we can succeed. You can find common ground there. See, if the goal is
success, then we can work together. If the goal is get out now regardless,
then it is going to be hard to work together," he said.
Both parties acknowledge that public discontent over the war in Iraq
was the major factor driving Democratic gains in the House of
Representatives and Senate.
"This was a very significant victory for the Democrats and they
deserved it based on a lot of hard work," said analyst Larry Sabato, who
directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "But it was
also delivered to them by President Bush and his unpopularity and the
unpopularity of the Iraq war."
Many experts predict it will be difficult for the president and his
newly energized Democratic rivals to find common ground on Iraq.
"I think the big picture is a change in tone. Certainly Democrats and
some other outside forces like the Iraq Study Group [headed by former
Secretary of State James Baker] are going to be putting forward some
alternatives that may put some significant pressure on the president,"
said John Fortier, a longtime observer of U.S. politics at the American
Enterprise Institute in Washington. "But at the end of the day, the
president is the commander in chief and has much more say over foreign
policy than do these other institutions and we will see how he takes that
advice and whether he is changing course significantly, or just in a small
The shifting political landscape in Washington will have an impact on
the final two years of Mr. Bush's presidency in significant ways beyond
Analyst Larry Sabato says it will also be a test of the president's
willingness to compromise with Democrats.
"His [President Bush's] domination of American politics is now
officially over. He cannot control appointments anymore, at least the ones
that go through the Senate. He cannot control appropriations [funding],
because they originate in the House [of Representatives]. And he is going
to have to do something that he is not very good at doing, which is
compromising," he said.
Democrats will face their share of challenges in the months ahead,
including convincing voters that they can compete with Republicans as
guardians of national security.
It is also possible that divisions among Democrats could emerge between
veteran liberal lawmakers looking to exact some measure of political
revenge from the administration, and newly elected moderate Democrats who
may push for compromise with Republicans.
Tim Curran is editor in chief of Roll Call, a newspaper that covers
Congress. He says Nancy Pelosi, expected to be the Democratic speaker of
the House, could be pulled in different directions by some of her fellow
"She is going to have to be very cautious about how far to the left she
tries to lead her troops. I think they've already shown the
policy and some of the other Democratic leaders in the House have
already signaled that they are going to be cautious about that," he said.
One issue that may benefit from the prospect of divided government is
immigration reform. Many Republicans opposed President Bush's effort to
include a guest worker program as part of any effort to crack down on
illegal immigration. Mr. Bush could find some new allies for his approach
among the increased numbers of Democrats who will be going to Congress in