Committee Embraces Defense Nominee Gates

Defense nominee Robert Gates was questioned by the 24 senators of the Committee on Armed Services over his nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Defense. The committee members freely endorsed Gates' nomination.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Every congressional hearing has an element of theater, so NPR's Guy Raz covered this event by serving as a drama critic. As you listen to this review, imagine a thumb pointing down.

GUY RAZ: You know a cabinet post confirmation hearing isn't going to be a nail-biter when Senator McCain addresses you as:

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Mr. Secretary, finally...

RAZ: Now for the record, Robert Gates is not the secretary yet. But you'd hardly know that, watching members of the Senate Armed Services Committee trip over each other to offer Gates a proverbial group hug.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): Bob Gates is a very thoughtful man, an honest man, a no-nonsense manager.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): Dr. Gates, we appreciate your willingness to return to public life.

Sen. MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Dr. Gates, thank you for your willingness to serve this nation again.

Senator EDWARD M. KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Dr. Gates, I join those in thanking you for your willingness to come back in.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Democrat, Connecticut): Dr. Gates, thank you for your agreement to serve your country again.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Dr. Gates, thank you for your candor.

RAZ: That was Senators Warner, Levin, McCain, Kennedy, Lieberman and Clinton -or if you will, the anybody-but-Rumsfeld Committee - because as soon as the nominee arrived, Senator Warner tapped his gavel...

(Soundbite of gavel tapping)

RAZ: ...and said:

Sen. WARNER: It is our expectation that before day's end, we can complete this hearing.

RAZ: All Gates really had to do for the committee was one thing. He had to give off the I'm-not-like-Rumsfeld vibe, and I'm going to play nice with the other Cabinet members - which he did.

Mr. ROBERT GATES (Defense Secretary Nominee): And when the secretary of state and the secretary of defense aren't speaking to one another, it actually matters in the way - in the councils of government.

RAZ: Now when, or rather, if, historians ever write about the Gates confirmation hearing, they may rename it the Gates coronation hearing. But at least the incoming Pentagon boss now has his marching orders.

Unidentified Man (Senator): Your first Cabinet meeting, pound that table.

Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.

AMOS: You can read about Tuesday's hearings and hear highlights of Robert Gates' testimony at our Web site npr.org.

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