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With Republican Defeat, Rumsfeld Steps Down

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld leaves the stage after an Oct. 26, 2006, briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has resigned as Republicans reel from a devastating Democratic win in Tuesday's congressional and gubernatorial elections.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), likely the new House speaker, called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

"There has to be a signal for a change of direction on the part of the president, and one good place to start -- change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon," Pelosi said. "That would signal an openness to new, fresh ideas on the subject."

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Despite the president's own public remarks last week that he expected Rumsfeld's tenure to end with his own in 2008, Bush indicated that he had considered the switch before Tuesday's Republican defeat. Bush said in a news conference Wednesday that he started talking to Robert Gates, his nomination to replace Rumsfeld, over the weekend.

Gates led the CIA under President George H.W. Bush, from November 1991 to January 1993, and is currently the president of Texas A&M University.

Bush defended Rumsfeld's troubled tenure, calling him "a patriot who served this country with honor and distinction." But the president said that he and Rumsfeld agreed that progress had been too slow in Iraq, and it was time for a change and new perspective at the Pentagon.

In the months leading up to the elections, Democrats led an increasing chorus of calls from senior military officials and some Republicans for Rumsfeld to resign over his handling of the Iraq war.

Rumsfeld's resignation is seen as a reaction to the Democrats' sweep of the House, where they gained at least 26 seats, and possible seizure of control in the Senate. Democrats gained five seats there, giving them the edge at 50 seats to the Republicans' 49 seats. One Senate race remains undecided -- Virginia -- but the Democratic challenger there, Jim Webb, had the unofficial lead over Republican incumbent George Allen.

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"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."

Reporting by Tom Bowman and Jackie Northam.

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