Bayh Supports Panetta Pick

Former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, President-elect Barack Obama's pick to head the CIA, has collected a statement of support from one of the eight Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee--the panel he will need to clear before being confirmed by the Senate--despite cold reactions yesterday from the panel's top two Democrats.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a member of the committee, said today that he supports the selection of Panetta as the nation's top intelligence officer.

"Leon Panetta is an outstanding public servant, and I intend to support his nomination for CIA director. We should respect the judgment of President-elect Obama and his commitment to do what's right for our country," Bayh said in a written statement issued by his office.

Some have predicted a tough confirmation process for Panetta, who served as President Bill Clinton's top administrative lieutenant in the Oval Office, given his lack of direct experience with intelligence gathering and the negative reactions of Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the committee's incoming chairwoman and current chairman.

Feinstein and Rockefeller yesterday said they had not been informed of Obama's pick before news outlets reported it. Rockefeller reportedly expressed concern about Panetta's lack of experience in private, and both had reportedly recommended Deputy CIA Director Steve Kappes for the job.

Bayh expressed "high regard" for Kappes in the same statement today.

"At the same time, I have very high regard for Steve Kappes, the deputy director of the CIA. I've been in some extremely sensitive meetings involving matters of life and death with him and have been impressed by his competency. I hope we can convince both Mr. Panetta and Mr. Kappes to work together at the CIA for the sake of our country's national security," Bayh said.

Panetta will face confirmation hearings in the Intelligence Committee, which will recommend to the entire Senate whether or not he should be confirmed.