Citing terrorist visa flap, Senate leader seeks Ridge testimony

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Wednesday urged Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to testify before Congress. Daschle said he was "absolutely shocked" to learn that the Immigration and Naturalization Service approved student visas for two of the suspected Sept. 11 hijackers six months after the attack, and said it was a major embarrassment.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D.W.Va., and ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, have written Ridge urging him to testify before their committee, but the administration has argued that Ridge--a former House member--has no responsibility to do so as an adviser to the president.

"He needs to come before Appropriations in particular and explain why things like this are happening," Daschle said.

Daschle said he was considering a series of options to induce Ridge to testify, including a subpoena, a resolution on the floor, or creating statutory authority for Ridge's post to make the position accountable to Congress.

Daschle said he would consult with Democratic committee chairmen and Republican ranking members, saying that Ridge's current position is "untenable and inexcusable."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Ridge should probably brief Congress on overall homeland security issues, but said, "I wouldn't expect him to testify on specific budget aspects, because he doesn't have the statutory authority."

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Larry Craig of Idaho also said Ridge should testify about broad goals. "I believe that he needs to come and talk to all appropriate committees about what his plans are," Craig said.