Lieberman Offers To Hand Gavel Over To GOP For Ridge Hearing

WASHINGTON – Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Monday – in an effort to proceed as expeditiously as possible with the nomination of Tom Ridge to lead the new Department of Homeland Security – offered to turn the gavel over to Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., for Tuesday’s scheduled confirmation hearing.

The White House Office of Homeland Security, led by Governor Ridge, since late 2001, informed the Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this month of its desire to move forward with the Ridge nomination as quickly as possible. President Bush said publicly that Ridge’s nomination as secretary of the new department was a priority.

Chairman Lieberman – who has been advocating the creation of a department since shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks – agreed that the department’s leadership should be in place as quickly as possible so that it may begin the monumental task of protecting Americans at home. Lieberman had anticipated that Republicans would have been organized to take over the Senate by the time of the Ridge hearing, enabling Senator Collins to assume the chairmanship of the Governmental Affairs Committee and to wield the gavel at Ridge’s hearing.

When last week arrived with no reorganizing resolution pending before the Senate, the committee announced the Ridge hearing would be held January 14, in order to move this matter ahead, but still anticipating an agreement on an organizing resolution this week. All prospective members of the committee would have been invited and welcomed to the hearing.

Despite the fact that Ridge appeared before committee staff Friday for a routine pre-hearing interview, rumors began circulating that Ridge would not appear before a hearing chaired by Lieberman.The White House Office of Homeland Security confirmed the accuracy of these rumors for committee staff Sunday night. Lieberman is disappointed by the decision and remains hopeful the hearing can go forward as scheduled, with Senator Collins holding the gavel, or as quickly thereafter as possible.