House leader wants attorney general out

White House continues to back Alberto Gonzales.

The White House on Monday said President Bush retains confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined the growing ranks of lawmakers calling for the White House to replace him for his role in the firings of eight federal prosecutors.

"I believe we need a new attorney general," Pelosi told the Chicago Tribune editorial board this morning. "I don't think it looks good for him right now."

At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "We hope he stays." But Snow declined to say whether Bush conveyed any displeasure to Gonzales when the two discussed the U.S. attorneys flap last week.

Meanwhile, as the Senate prepared to begin debate Monday on a bill that would limit the president's interim appointments of federal prosecutors, the White House said discussions about congressional efforts to question senior White House aides about the firings would soon come to a head.

White House Counsel Fred Fielding will visit Capitol Hill Tuesday for what one official described as substantive discussions with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., House Judiciary Chairman Conyers and other lawmakers.

At issue is whether Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers will be allowed to testify or whether Bush will invoke executive privilege to block their appearances.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and some other Democrats complained that Fielding missed his self-imposed deadline for telling lawmakers of his decision by the end of last week. Snow acknowledged the delay, saying the meeting was scheduled only after Fielding had "worked through some of these complex issues" and satisfied himself that he was ready to answer lawmakers.

While Pelosi was weighing in for the first time, House Republican leaders were still crafting their strategy on the issue. Last week, Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he wanted to get all of the facts before drawing any conclusions. But he stressed that U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, a point that is expected to remain a central tenet in the GOP's response.

And while a growing number of Democrats and some Republicans have called for Gonzales' ouster, several senior Democratic aides noted it might be better for Gonzales to stay, giving Democrats a ripe political issue to exploit in 2008.