Senate votes 95-2 to confirm Gates

His `candidness' wins bipartisan backing

December 07, 2006|By Peter Spiegel | Peter Spiegel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to confirm Robert M. Gates as the 22nd secretary of defense, giving the former CIA director bipartisan support amid the increasingly divisive debate over the course of Iraq policy.

The Senate voted 95-2 to approve Gates' nomination, and White House officials said a swearing-in ceremony will be held Dec. 18.

That means Donald H. Rumsfeld, the current defense secretary, will fall less than two weeks short of becoming the longest-serving secretary of defense since the position was created after World War II. Robert S. McNamara served for seven years and one month, from 1961 to 1968.

The two votes against Gates were cast by Republicans, departing Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who opposed Gates over his criticism of Iraq policy and his support for opening talks with Iran and Syria.

President Bush thanked the Senate for moving quickly on the nomination and said he was heartened by the bipartisan support.

"Throughout his career, Dr. Gates has transformed the organizations he has led and empowered them to successfully address complex issues," Bush said. "I am confident that his leadership and capabilities will help our country meet its current military challenges and prepare for emerging threats of the 21st century."

Gates won over critics of the administration's handling of the war on both sides of the aisle during an adulatory confirmation hearing Tuesday during which he vowed to consider all options in Iraq and openly criticized some of the administration's decisions during the war.

Democrats said Gates' openness was the reason they supported his nomination.

"I was heartened to see the forthrightness and candidness employed by Dr. Gates at his confirmation hearing yesterday," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said during yesterday's debate on the nomination.

"He fully admitted the need for a change of approach in Iraq, stating his view that we are not currently winning the war and that the status quo is unacceptable."

Other Democrats had reservations about the choice.

"Would he have been my first choice? No. But I do believe we are a nation at war," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

"The president's got to give us a real secretary of defense who will at least engage in conversation with us, and we need to now begin to move ahead."

People close to Gates say he is unlikely to make widespread changes among top personnel in the Pentagon, and he is expected to encourage the department's No. 2 official, Deputy Secretary Gordon England, to remain.

Some officials tied closely to Rumsfeld have announced their intention to leave. Stephen Cambone, the Pentagon intelligence chief and a close Rumsfeld ally who pushed hard for tough interrogation practices in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, announced last week that he would leave at the end of the month.

Gates has said he plans to travel to Iraq early in his tenure to get views from U.S. commanders on Iraq strategy and troop numbers.

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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