(CBS/AP) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, architect of an unpopular war in Iraq, is stepping down, President Bush announced Wednesday.
Word comes a day after big Democratic gains in the midterm elections, in which Rumsfeld was a focus of much of the criticism of the Iraq war.
Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, will replace Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush said at a White House news conference.
"Don Rumsfeld was a superb leader during a time of change, and he appreciates a fresh perspective in a critical period in this war," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush called Rumsfeld a "trusted adviser and friend," and said he's "deeply grateful" for his service to the country.
"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."
Asked whether there would be a new direction in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, Mr. Bush replied, "Well, there's certainly going to be new leadership at the Pentagon."
He disclosed he had spoken with Gates last Sunday, two days before congressional elections in which Democrats swept to control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate.
"Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective and great managerial experience," Mr. Bush said.
Democrats have long called for Rumsfeld's resignation, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss, but the president just before the election said he supports Rumsfeld and the way the war in Iraq was conducted and wanted him to stay.
More than twice as many Americans in a CBS News/New York Times poll last month said they had an unfavorable view of Rumsfeld as had a favorable view.
Rumsfeld, 74, was in his second tour of duty as defense chief. He first held the job a generation ago, when he was appointed by President Ford.
Gates is the president of Texas A&M University and a close friend of the Bush family. He served as CIA director for Mr. Bush's father from 1991 until 1993.
Gates first joined the CIA in 1966 and served in the intelligence community for more than a quarter century, under six presidents.
His nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.
Democrats, not surprisingly, reacted positively to the news of Rumsfeld's departure.
"Yesterday’s election was a cry for change and for the first time it looks like the president is listening," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "The nomination of a new Department of Defense Secretary is a good first step, and we hope it is a sign that the president is looking toward a new course of action in Iraq."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who had intervened in the past to shore up Rumsfeld, issued a statement saying, "Washington must now work together in a bipartisan way – Republicans and Democrats – to outline the path to success in Iraq."
Shortly before the president's announcement, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who's in line to become the new Speaker of the House, said it was time "to change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon," a reference to growing bipartisan demands that Rumsfeld be replaced.
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