The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and the panel's ranking Republican member yesterday discussed holding a personal meeting with President Bush over the firings of U.S. attorneys.
In an unusual display of on-air negotiation, the two senators discussed bringing in the president as a compromise in the fight over whether White House officials should testify before Congress.
"One thing we haven't done is asked for a meeting with the president," Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said during an appearance on CNN's "Late Edition." "Why don't you and John Conyers and I ask for a meeting with the president? We may be a little tired of dealing with his lawyer."
Democrats have attempted to subpoena the testimony of White House officials, including presidential adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former White House political director Sara Taylor. The White House has denied the requests, citing executive privilege.
"Why don't you and I chat about this tomorrow when we're on the floor, so we won't be having to be taking up [host Wolf Blitzer's] time on this thing," Mr. Leahy said in response to Mr. Specter's suggestion.
"Well, I don't think Wolf minds a bit," Mr. Specter joked. "That's the first time he hasn't interrupted in years."
While Republicans and Democrats have disagreed over whether White House officials should be required to appear and under what circumstances, Mr. Specter has regularly offered compromise proposals to his Democratic counterparts.
Mr. Specter has suggested that administration officials appear in closed meetings and not under oath but that a public transcript of the meetings be made available. The White House has objected to having any such meetings transcribed.
Lawmakers have given the Bush administration a deadline of this morning to explain why it has claimed executive privilege on subpoenaed documents related to the congressional investigation of the attorney firings. White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined to say anything more specific than that the White House will respond "in a manner consistent with the principle of the separation of powers."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and a former Judiciary chairman, said Democrats are overreaching on the issue and that the White House has legal grounds to cite executive privilege.
"I don't have any problem with that position. I think they're asserting executive privilege properly. And frankly, I think they have a pretty strong case," Mr. Hatch told CBS' "Face the Nation." "The White House has cooperated fully.
"But there comes a point where the White House has to say, 'Hey, look, there are certain confidential things in the White House that we're not going to share with Congress,' just like there are certain confidential things in Congress we're not going to share with the White House."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has led the investigation into the attorney firings, says the administration's refusal to cooperate implies that it was inappropriately involved.
"It looks like the White House did it," Mr. Schumer said on "Face the Nation." "You know, when somebody claims this kind of secrecy on these kinds of specific acts, it's usually because they have something to hide."