Rumsfeld Walks Out on Congress

Secretary On the Offensive (Dana Milbank, WaPo, A01)

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.

Frankly, that a man in his late 60’s wanted to have some lunch before enduring a second set of questions bothers me not in the least. Referring, one presumes, to the afternoon session, Milbank writes,

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.”

The piece is rather snide in tone with several of the examples of Rumsfeld’s supposed rudeness rather minor. And quotes like this are simply jejune:

[T]he 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.”)

Do we really need to nitpick every syllable from extemporaneous speeches?

Regardless, one gets the impression that the secretary was particularly grumpy yesterday. Having listened to more congressional hearings that most, I can sympathize, though. The questioning is generally preening and designed, not to illicit information, but designed either to make the witness look bad or the questioner look good. Most of the questions Rumsfeld brushed off yesterday are of the quality one would expect from a high school newspaper, not seasoned members of a specialized committee.

Regardless, this isn’t a helpful stance for Rumsfeld to take. Congressmen have big egos and Senators bigger ones still. It doesn’t pay to annoy them.

FILED UNDER: Congress
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Do we really need to nitpick every syllable from extemporaneous speeches?

    After Bill Clinton, I suppose they’ve gotten into the habit.

  2. McGehee says:

    Regardless, this isn’t a helpful stance for Rumsfeld to take. Congressmen have big egos and Senators bigger ones still. It doesn’t pay to annoy them.

    But it’s so much fun!

  3. Kenny says:

    Actually Dr. Joyner, we were taught in my journalism department that you give the benefit of the doubt to speakers. The notable exception was when someone of high profile made such mistakes. The thinking being that the SecDef is used to speeches, pressers, etc where my neighbor doesn’t do that stuff a lot. Its a nit to pick, but something that got mentioned when I was in school.

  4. Digger says:

    Congressmen have big egos and Senators bigger ones still.

    So he was being smart dumping the Congressmen to be on time for the Senators!

  5. bryan says:

    Limbaugh played a clip today of some congresswoman asking Rumsfeld a question about Iraqi army troop strengths, and claiming his numbers were inflated. He said, “my numbers are from Feb. 14, when are yours from?”

    She said Dec. 20.

    “Well, it’s no wonder that you have different numbers, then,” Rumsfeld said.

    Such is the nature of the “hard questions” raised by congress.