Donald Rumsfeld's abrupt resignation from the Pentagon the day after Republicans lost both chambers of Congress has infuriated some GOP officials on and off Capitol Hill.
Members and staff still reeling from Tuesday's rout are furious about the administration's decision to dump the controversial defense secretary one day after their historic loss, they said in a series of interviews about the election results.
President Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation on Wednesday and named Bob Gates, a former CIA chief and president of Texas A&M University, as his replacement.
"The White House said keeping the majority was a priority, but they failed to do the one thing that could have made a difference," one House GOP leadership aide said Thursday. "For them to toss Rumsfeld one day after the election was a slap in the face to everyone who worked hard to protect the majority."
Exit polling suggested that an overwhelming majority of voters disapproved of the administration's handling of the war in Iraq, and members and aides were frustrated with the timing of the announcement because an earlier resignation could have given them a boost on the campaign trail, they believe.
"They did this to protect themselves, but they couldn't protect us?" another Republican aide said yesterday.
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten called outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Wednesday morning to notify him of the move, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said Thursday. A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the White House also notified the House leader before the news was announced.
Citing the various scandals that have roiled the Republican Congress, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow Thursday downplayed the impact of the war in Iraq on Tuesday's election.
"The voters said, 'You know what, we expect you to come to Washington and do the people's business,'" Snow said during his regular press briefing Thursday. "And when people lose sight of that, voters tend to remind them of the priorities. That's 10 seats right there."
The working relationship between Bush and congressional Republicans will be an interesting subplot for the next Congress as the GOP adjusts to its new role in the minority.
Relations between the president and Republicans on the Hill have frayed dramatically since he began his second term, with GOP lawmakers placing increased blame on the administration for its perceived inability to reach to members and staff on legislation, personnel moves and its interpretation of the legal code in the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.
Republicans cite the fumbled rollout of Social Security reform, the administration's continued support of comprehensive immigration reform and the president's insistence to defend American involvement in Iraq on the campaign trail.
There were also very public spats between Hastert and the administration over an FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) congressional office and a major split over the near acquisition of port operations in six major cities by a firm based in Dubai.
Bush met with Boehner, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Thursday morning.
© 2006 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp.