Washington D.C. — (AP) - President Bush on Wednesday congratulated Democrats on their takeover of the House and strong gains in the Senate and announced he had selected a new defense secretary to oversee the increasingly violent conflict in Iraq.
Bush, reaching into the administration of his father, said that former CIA Director Robert Gates would replace Donald M. Rumsfeld as defense secretary.
To the end, Bush defended Rumsfeld's troubled tenure, calling him "a patriot who served this country with honor and distinction."
"I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made" in Iraq, the president said. "Yet I also believe most Americans - and leaders here in Washington from both political parties - understand we cannot accept defeat."
Gates led the CIA, under then-President George H.W. Bush, from November 1991 to January 1993.
"Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective and great managerial experience," Bush said.
The president said he had visited with Gates and talked about the job over the weekend on his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Bush was asked whether, now that he is replacing Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, he still had full confidence in Dick Cheney and whether the vice president would serve out the rest of his term.
"Yes he does, yes he will," Bush replied.
Like Rumsfeld, to many critics Cheney has been the face of the war in Iraq and one of its chief advocates.
Bush expressed both disappointment and surprise over the election results and said he had called Democratic leaders to personally congratulate them.
"Actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday," Bush said. "Shows what I know."
He quipped that he had given House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi the name of a Republican interior decorator to help her pick out drapes for her new meeting - poking fun at the California Democrat's pre-election remark about having her pick of Capitol suites.
As to the role played in Tuesday's widespread GOP losses, Bush said, "I believe Iraq had a lot to do with the election, but I think there were other factors as well."
He suggested that a variety of congressional scandals may also have played a role.
He said he would seek to find "common ground" with Pelosi, but without either of them compromising their principles. She will become the first-ever woman to be speaker of the House.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)