Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gates may take Pentagon job in December

Gates may take Pentagon job in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Robert Gates, the former CIA director who is President Bush's choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, is likely to assume the Pentagon post before year's end if he is confirmed by the Senate as expected, officials said Monday.

Eric Ruff, the Pentagon press secretary, said Gates will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee early next week, with a vote expected by the full Senate by Dec. 12 or 13. In preparation for the hearing, Gates is receiving a series of briefings by senior Pentagon officials, Ruff said.

Even if Gates is confirmed as expected, it is unclear when he would be sworn in to his new duties, Ruff said.

"It's somewhat of a fluid situation," he said.

Another administration official, who would discuss the Gates matter only on condition of anonymity, said that if confirmation goes as expected, then Gates would be sworn in well before the end of the year. No date is set.

Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation and Gates' nomination on Nov. 8, the day after congressional elections that put the Democrats in control of both the Senate and the House. Bush faces heavy political pressure to find a way forward in Iraq; he said he chose Gates in hopes of gaining fresh ideas about war strategy.

Bush is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week in Amman, Jordan, amid continuing violence, political turmoil and fear of civil war in Iraq. The president also awaits recommendations on possible new approaches to stabilizing the country from the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group.

Ruff said Gates, who is president of Texas A&M University, may have university business to attend to in the days following his confirmation hearing, but it was unclear whether this would delay his swearing in.

There has been speculation that the Pentagon transition would be put off until the end of December in order to give Rumsfeld the distinction of being the longest-serving secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947.

Rumsfeld is the only person to have held the job twice. The first time, he served for 14 months, from Nov. 20, 1975 to Jan. 20, 1977. His current tenure began Jan. 20, 2001. If he were to stay until Dec. 28, his combined tenures would surpass the longevity record held by Robert S. McNamara, who served from Jan. 21, 1961 to Feb. 29, 1968.

Ruff said, however, that the timing of Gates' takeover has nothing to do with the longevity record.

"I can assure you that is not a factor on the secretary's mind," Ruff said.

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