Ridge to brief senators on proposal for new department

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge Thursday will hold his first Capitol Hill briefing for lawmakers concerning President Bush's plan for a new Homeland Security Department, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Tuesday.

The meeting, requested by Daschle, is open to all senators and will be a private session held in the secure Intelligence Committee chamber, according to a Daschle aide.

"He will brief us, we will ask questions, and this process will begin very deliberately--and hopefully very successfully," said Daschle, who announced the briefing after a meeting at the White House that also included Bush, Ridge, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

Despite the conflict and turf fighting certain to accompany the upcoming debate over Bush's proposal, both the congressional leaders and the president pledged close cooperation.

Daschle said Bush's "specific proposal" for the department will be sent to Capitol Hill "within two to three weeks." Ridge said congressional leaders would, in "the next several days," work out the schedule of his formal testimony this year to Congress about the new agency. But Hastert said that, right now, there is not yet a "clear path on how we're going to do [it] or how we're going to process this yet."

Hastert reported that Gephardt suggested completing the process by the Sept. 11 anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, a goal Hastert indicated he would strive to meet.

House Intelligence ranking member Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., indicated committee members will meet with Vice President Dick Cheney this week--and at some point with Bush--to discuss the role of the FBI and the CIA with respect to the new department.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, Tuesday expressed optimism the House could avoid partisan and jurisdictional fights on Bush's homeland security proposal and implement it without holding up action on the pending legislative business.

"I have no doubt this Congress will rise to the occasion and get the work done," he said. Armey said he was heartened by the tone of today's White House meeting. "I was encouraged by the unqualified commitment to achieving this end by both parties," he said.

Armey said GOP leaders would discuss how to move the plan through the House, but said he would defer to Hastert on an announcement. Asked about the possibility of his chairing a select panel on homeland security, Armey again deferred to Hastert. "If I'm asked to work on this project, I will work to be as effective as possible," Armey said.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who also attended the White House meeting, said he expects members of Congress to offer their own suggestions about how to structure the new department.

"The president understands there will be a lot of give and take in order to construct that," he said. Lott indicated he thought the Governmental Affairs Committee would be given primary jurisdiction over creating the new agency, and Governmental Affairs ranking member Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., said the "massive reorganization" would require "considerable" time for hearings in his committee.

"It's going to be something we're going to have to live with for years, so we need to do it right," Thompson said. He said he does not favor any time limits--such as Gephardt's Sept. 11 target.

As Congress asserts its role, new ideas could come from Republicans and Democrats alike. Lott said his "inclination" is that the FBI and CIA should continue to operate outside of the new Homeland Security Department - although some Democrats have suggested elements of the FBI and CIA should be placed under the authority of a new Homeland Security secretary.