Can Donald Rumsfeld resign at will?

Last week or so, I was listening to clips where Ted Kenedy was telling Rumsfeld that he should resign. Rumsfeld replied that twice, he offered his resignation, and that Bush turned him down, as is his right.
So, my question is, does this mean that Rumsfeld isn’t allowed to quit at will? That he has to stay at his job until Bush let’s him go, or, until his term is up (assuming that cabinate members are only appointed for a certain length of time)?

Cabinet secretaries (and other WH staff) serve at the pleasure of the President. That means they work there as long as he wants them to. He can refuse to accept their resignation if he so chooses.

Normally, a resignation would be arranged far in advance, so that replacement candidates can be vetted and lined up for confirmation. Simply choosing to resign would require a pretty convincing reason, if the President’s been happy with your work.

Your first paragraph is only half right. A cabinet secretary’s tenure lasts no longer that the moment that the President decides to end it. That doesn’t mean that a cabinet secretary can’t quit. Involuntary servitude has been illegal for 140 years. There is, however, a belief held by many that any American has a duty (ethical rather than legal) to serve in such a role if the President asks.

Your second paragraph is correct, if that non-legal ethical motivation is what you meant.

Legally, yes, a Cabinet officer can resign without the President’s permission. In practice, one expects the President and his officers to have a collegial enough relationship that this won’t happen. If the President wants an officer to stay on, the officer will generally do so unless there are compelling personal reasons (ill health, desire for retirement, desire to leave government, etc.) to do otherwise. Conversely, where such personal considerations exist, one expects the President to understand and to work out the timing of the officer’s departure without recrimination. But if push comes to shove, the officer can resign without the President’s permission, and the President can fire the officer without the officer’s permission.

:dubious: Feudalism is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

It’s all stagecraft, like much of what Rumsfeld says. One wonders whether the two offers of resignation actually even happened, or if they happened, whether there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that they would be refused. It’s more theatre on Rumsfeld’s part.

Anyway, the president is not a monarch; he may not command anyone to serve. If a cabinet secretary wants to quit, he may quit. The question of whether there is an ethical or moral principle here seems so much folderol to me. The idea that the president is owed some particular kind of loyalty above and beyond any other offends my sense of democracy and egalitarianism.

And I’d be surprised to find that there aren’t plenty of people who have refused offers to serve on the cabinet.

In 1980 Secretary of State Cyrus Vance resigned after President Carter ordered the failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages.

In 1973 Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather that follow President Nixon’s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor.

I’m certain any Government official can inexorably resign e.g. due to ill health or family tragedy.

I think what happened here was that Rumsfeld felt that some policy was not working and reflected badly on the Administration. Therefore he offered Bush the chance to accept his (Rumsfeld’s) resignation (implying that Rumsfeld, not Bush was to blame). Bush then chose to keep Rumsfeld on.

“I’ll quit if you want me to, boss” is a very different statement than “I quit!” Rumsfeld may well have said the first – which is just a personal courtesy, because the president has an absolute right to demand his resignation at any time – but it’s plain he never said the last.


That’s what I was trying to say, but I missed.