Daschle: Security director may be subpoenaed
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge may face a subpoena if he keeps refusing to testify voluntarily on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Sunday.
"It is an option," Daschle, D-South Dakota, said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "But we're hoping it is not a necessary one. We are still hoping that they will have a change of heart."
The Senate leader said lawmakers in both parties and houses of Congress consider Ridge's position "untenable," but he said no decision has been made on what action to take if the White House doesn't back down.
Ridge has refused a request to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which wants to question him about spending for homeland security programs. The Bush administration maintains that because Ridge is an adviser to President Bush, not a Cabinet member, he should not be compelled to testify on Capitol Hill.
Ridge should not have to testify, said Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma.
"The president is entitled to have his advisers. We don't ask Condi Rice, the president's national security adviser, up to testify before Congress. We don't ask his chief of staff," Nickles said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think the president is right in saying, 'Wait a minute. I need Tom Ridge to help run this war on terrorism, and he shouldn't have to go around to each individual committee.' "
But Daschle said that Ridge's position, coordinating the various homeland security efforts, is fundamentally different than that of Rice's because it "goes way beyond" an advisory role to the president.
"He is the administrator of a very important program right now," Daschle said. "He's acting with all the rights and privileges of a Cabinet officer. He ought to come before the Congress and work in concert with us to do this job right."
Nickles said Ridge is willing to meet with members of Congress to discuss homeland security matters and he hopes the dispute can be settled. But he also said that having Ridge going before numerous individual committees to give testimony would be "ridiculous."
If Ridge starts testifying before committees, "he will be up there spending all his time on Capitol Hill, rather than doing his job," added Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, another leading Republican.
The fight over Ridge's testimony is the latest round in a long-running debate over how the homeland security office, created by Bush after the September 11 terrorist attacks, should be organized.
Bush has so far resisted calls to make the homeland security office a separate Cabinet-level department, with its own budget and a director confirmed by the Senate. Instead, he made the office part of the White House staff by executive order and appointed Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor and a close political ally, to run it.
But Daschle said Sunday that he thinks it would make "a good deal of sense" to have the homeland security director be a Cabinet-level position, "given the tremendous responsibilities he has, given the great need I think there is for coordination within the government."
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