WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Democrats pushed for a vote Wednesday calling for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to be fired, but Republicans moved to head them off.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., submitted the resolution, which blasted the Bush administration's Iraq policy. ``'Staying the course' is not a strategy for success,'' it said.
Republicans called the move a political stunt and stood by Rumsfeld.
Even Democrats acknowledged that the Rumsfeld resolution, which is nonbinding in the first place, would be struck down on a point of order anyway since it is not germane to the pending legislation, the Pentagon spending bill.
``The 'stay the course' policy in Iraq has made America less secure, reduced the readiness of our troops, and burdened America's taxpayers with over $300 billion in additional debt. ... One indication of a change of course would be to replace the current secretary of defense,'' the resolution said.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the floor manager of the bill, rose to Rumsfeld's defense and promised to kill the Democratic resolution on a point of order.
``This man deserves the support of the Senate, does not deserve the opposition I'm sad to say ... on a purely political basis,'' Stevens said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., repeatedly supported Rumsfeld as he made the rounds of news shows Wednesday morning.
``The American people want us to be safe and secure. They recognize it takes bold leadership,'' Frist said on NBC's ``Today'' show. ``I strongly support Don Rumsfeld.''
The GOP blocking tactics would prevent politically imperiled Republicans from having to vote to support the way President Bush and Rumsfeld have handled the war, which is increasingly unpopular with the public.
Some Republicans, such as John McCain of Arizona, have sharply criticized Rumsfeld. And GOP candidates Tom Kean of New Jersey and Stephen Laffey of Rhode Island, who is giving Sen. Lincoln Chafee a very difficult race for renomination, have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.
Democrats say Rumsfeld, as a principle architect of the war, bears much responsibility for the difficulties the U.S. is facing in Iraq. And they remain livid over a speech last week in which Rumsfeld likened opponents of the war in Iraq to those who wanted to appease Adolf Hitler before World War II.
``Secretary Rumsfeld was a leading participant in the administration's cherry-picking and manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to war, exaggerating Iraq's connections to Al-Qaida and the threat posed by its weapons of mass destruction,'' said Reid. ``As a result of his and others actions, the nation was rushed to war based on a faulty case.''
``What CEO of a company could ultimately perform the way that Secretary Rumsfeld has performed and still be at the head of that company? None,'' said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
The White House and congressional Republicans are framing the November elections as a referendum on which party would do a better job on fighting terrorism and otherwise protecting the country.
``It must be discouraging to our troops and to our generals when all of their work is second-guessed by this kind of ploy,'' said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. ``The Democrat amendment may rile up the liberal base, but it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack.''
Democrats are likely to have no more luck in forcing a vote on Rumsfeld in the House, where Republican leaders keep tight control over floor debate.