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Inside Politics

Support mixed for Rumsfeld on Capitol Hill

Biden says problem is bigger than defense secretary

Sen. Joe Biden criticizes the civilian leadership for miscalculations and bad planning in Iraq.
Stay with CNN-USA for frequent updates on the Bush administration's show of support for Donald Rumsfeld, and for a look ahead at Tuesday's testimony on the Hill by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who wrote a U.S. Army report on abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
CNN's Bill Hemmer speaks with Sen. Joe Biden on the abuse scandal.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Rumsfeld under scrutiny.

CNN's Ben Wedeman on Court-martial proceedings set for a U.S. soldier.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Who do you blame for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners?
Donald H. Rumsfeld
George W. Bush
Joseph Biden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Support for U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- sharply criticized for his handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal -- appears mixed on Capitol Hill.

Over the weekend, several Republican lawmakers took to the airwaves to announce their confidence in Rumsfeld.

But some Democrats said otherwise, and one leading Republican said it was an open question as to whether Rumsfeld could continue in the top defense post.

The reviews follow Rumsfeld's appearance before two congressional panels in which he said he should have done a better job of explaining the gravity of the abuse reports to lawmakers and the president. (Rumsfeld tells Congress of his 'failure'; a timeline of the abuse controversy)

"I think it's still in question whether Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and, quite frankly, General (Richard) Myers can command the respect and the trust and the confidence of the military and the American people to lead this country," Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, told CBS' "Face the Nation." (Lawmakers to review new Iraq prison images)

Monday morning, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, described Rumsfeld as "irrelevant" to the problems facing the United States in Iraq, in light of the scandal now shaking the Defense Department.

"I don't care if Rumsfeld goes or stays," Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN.

"I think he's irrelevant, quite frankly. He's been wrong so many times, as the vice president has been."

President Bush paid a visit to the Pentagon on Monday, a high-profile show of support for the secretary.

"You are doing a superb job," Bush told Rumsfeld in front of reporters after a meeting at the Pentagon. "You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude." (Bush goes to Pentagon amid prison controversy)

Rumsfeld also has the backing of several prominent GOP lawmakers.

"I've known a lot of secretaries in my career," said Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I have confidence in this secretary. I've worked with him closely, and I'm confident I can work with him in the future."

The committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday about the controversy.

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also offered a strong endorsement of Rumsfeld.

"Secretary Rumsfeld should be judged on one thing and that's his effectiveness in managing this 2.5-million-person military in the war against terrorism ... In my estimation, he's done an excellent job," Hunter said.

Over the weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney issued a rare statement, defending Rumsfeld.

He called Rumsfeld the "the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had. People ought to let him do his job."

But a fellow Republican said it was just as "inappropriate" to complain about scrutinizing Rumsfeld's stewardship as it was to call for his resignation.

"Nobody's on their back," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're doing our jobs."

'Bigger than Rumsfeld'

Biden said the problem was bigger than Rumsfeld. He said that well-publicized courts martial of the soldiers involved in the abuse "will be viewed as swatting at a gnat" in the Arab world.

"We have to restore the faith of the people of Iraq in our mission -- that we're there to actually restore human rights for them and faith in the troops that we in fact have leadership," he said.

"We need to be doing everything from bringing in the International Red Cross and opening up the prisons, putting monitors in them right now," he said.

"We should be announcing that we're prepared to literally bulldoze down that prison (Abu Ghraib), which is a symbol of Saddam's torture as well as ours."

Biden has supportive words for one member of the Bush administration and for the uniformed military.

"Secretary of State (Colin) Powell, the uniformed military, they have been right," he said, "right from the beginning. Every general who was right they got rid of, starting with (former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric) Shinseki, who said we would need over 200,000 troops."

"Their policy is not very sound, and they seem to be unwilling to alter any aspect of their policy," he added. "The policy is the problem."

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