Jonathan Weisman and Peter Slevin report in The Washington Post that House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has decided against Rep. Alcee Hastings or Rep. Jane Harman to chair the House intelligence committee, passing up the two senior Democrats currently on the committee.
The decisions came despite lobbying by conservative Democrats on Harman’s behalf and a full-throttled campaign by Hastings to overcome the stigma of the 1988 impeachment that drove him from his federal judgeship.
The fight over the top spot on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has exposed the kind of factional politics that bedeviled House Democrats before they were swept from control in 1994. Harman, a moderate, strong-on-defense “Blue Dog” Democrat, had angered liberals with her reluctance to challenge the Bush administration’s use of intelligence. Hastings, an African American, was strongly backed by the Congressional Black Caucus but was ardently opposed by the Blue Dogs, who said his removal from the bench disqualifies him from such a sensitive post.
Complicating the matter was Pelosi’s relationship with black Democrats. Earlier this year, she enraged the Black Caucus by removing one of its members, Rep. William J. Jefferson (La.), from the Ways and Means Committee after court documents revealed that federal investigators looking into allegations of bribery had found $90,000 in cash neatly bundled in his freezer.
Instead of picking Harman or Hastings, Pelosi will look for a compromise candidate, probably Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), but possibly Rep. Norman D. Dicks (Wash.), a hawkish member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, or Rep. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), a conservative African American with experience on the intelligence committee. To entice Harman to run in 2000 for a House seat she had vacated for an unsuccessful bid for the California governorship, the Democratic leadership shunted Bishop off the committee — another perceived slap at black lawmakers.
Say what you will about Pelosi (and I’m sure you will), but in this case she proved not to be completely tone-deaf.