How long will it be before Congress has had enough of Don Rumsfeld?
Two dozen members of the House Armed Services Committee had not yet had their turn to question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at yesterday’s hearings when he decided he had had enough.
At 12:54, he announced that at 1 p.m. he would be taking a break and then going to another hearing in the Senate. “We’re going to have to get out and get lunch and get over there,” he said. When the questioning continued for four more minutes, Rumsfeld picked up his briefcase and began to pack up his papers.
Asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: “I am not going to give you a number.”
Did he care to voice an opinion on efforts by U.S. pilots to seek damages from their imprisonment in Iraq? “I don’t.”
Could he comment on what basing agreements he might seek in Iraq? “I can’t.”
How about the widely publicized cuts to programs for veterans? “I’m not familiar with the cuts you’re referring to.”
How long will the war last? “There’s never been a war that was predictable as to length, casualty or cost in the history of mankind.”
When Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) mentioned an estimate of the costs for increases in troops’ death benefits and life insurance, Rumsfeld said: “I’ve never heard that number.”
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) then complained about long-term Army expenses being included in an emergency spending package. Rumsfeld said the matter “really is beyond my pay grade.” When Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) observed that there are few positions beyond Rumsfeld’s pay grade, Rumsfeld retorted: “Senator, I thought Congress was Article 1 of the Constitution.”
Asked by Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) for his position on soldiers’ death benefits, Rumsfeld replied: “As a presidential appointee, I tend to support the president.”
Rumsfeld responded to Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) as he often scolds journalists: “You had so many questions there. Now let me see if I can pull out another one.” As the exchange with Forbes continued, Rumsfeld requested: “Could you speak up a little bit?”
Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) pressed Rumsfeld on whether he had talked with an aide who was quoted last month as saying Congress had been too generous in expanding military retirement benefits. “No, I have not, nor have I seen the statement that you’ve quoted in the context that it might have been included,” the defense secretary replied.
Rumsfeld seemed to be spoiling for a fight from the start, when in his opening statement he implicitly chided Congress for “an increasingly casual regard for the protection of classified documents and information.”
When the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, the secretary said, “I am not going to give you a number for it because it’s not my business to do intelligent work.” (He presumably meant to say “intelligence.”) Ultimately, Rumsfeld admitted he had estimates at his fingertips. “I’ve got two in front of me,” he said.
“Could you share those with us?” Skelton inquired.
Not just now, Rumsfeld said. “They’re classified.”