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Ridge, Byrd meet over possible Ridge testimony

From Dana Bash and Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge dropped in unannounced on Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, Wednesday night to discuss their showdown over whether Ridge should have to testify before Byrd's committee, CNN has learned.

Ridge came to Byrd's Capitol office without an appointment. An aide to Ridge said the Homeland Security chief decided to make the "impromptu" visit, after meeting with other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and described the session as "gracious ... not confrontational at all."

The fight over whether Ridge will testify is the latest in the tug of war between Congress and the White House over their "advise and consent" responsibility under the Constitution.

A Byrd aide said the two men had a "good 15 minute discussion" and that the senator reiterated how important he thinks it is for Ridge to justify the president's homeland security budget to Congress. The aide said Byrd told Ridge there were no plans to "ambush or embarrass" him, and that Ridge said he would discuss the issue with President Bush while traveling together in South America this week.

A Ridge aide said the Homeland Security chief reiterated to Byrd that it is his belief he should not be obliged to testify before Congress because he is an adviser to the president, not a Senate-confirmed secretary or a head of an agency.

White House officials said that Ridge will continue to make himself available to members of Congress, stressing that he has met with members 33 times in 33 separate meetings since he was named to his post in early October. Asked if the White House was working out a compromise to settle the dispute with Byrd, the Ridge aide said, "We are open to a variety of ideas."

Byrd, along with his Republican counterpart on the committee , Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have written two letters, one to Ridge and the other to Bush, saying it is imperative for the former Pennsylvania governor to testify.

Two other committees -- Senate Governmental Affairs and Budget -- have also put in bipartisan requests for Ridge to come before their committees to discuss the administration's homeland security efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, told reporters earlier this week that White House Chief of Staff Andy Card offered to allow Ridge to brief senators on homeland security in a Capitol room generally used for classified briefings.

Daschle rejected that offer, saying Ridge has a responsibility to the American people.

"I think that it's so critical when you make a request to the Congress to authorize and appropriate $38 billion for homeland security, somebody ought to come up and explain just how you're going to spend it," said Daschle Thursday. "Those issues are going unanswered in large measure because Mr. Ridge refuses to testify. We just have to find a way hopefully without the use of coercion to have those questions answered for the record."

Daschle has said he is considering sending Ridge a subpoena to come before Congress if he does not do so voluntarily.




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