Soon after Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) soundly defeated House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) endorsed candidate for majority leader, political observers began chattering about her next major decision: who will chair the Intelligence Committee in the 110th Congress.
Pelosi lost some political capital when Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) fell short in his leadership bid, but after Hoyer was proclaimed the winner, Pelosi and other House Democrats claimed that they were united.
Pelosi’s looming decision on Intelligence could fracture them again. There have been reports that Pelosi will pass over Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the panel, and give the gavel to Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) or Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), or another Democrat, perhaps even one not currently on the committee. One such option would be to pick Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).
One of the criticisms aimed at Harman is that she’s been too bipartisan on the Intelligence Committee. Harman worked closely with outgoing Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on intelligence reform in December 2004.
There have also been suggestions that Pelosi and Harman are not on friendly terms, but it is important to note that Pelosi tapped Harman to replace herself as the panel’s ranking member after the 2002 election.
That decision did not sit well with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which wanted Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.) to assume Pelosi’s post. Bishop was instead given a seat on the influential Appropriations Committee.
If Pelosi passes over Harman, the CBC will criticize her if she doesn’t pick Hastings, a CBC member who is next in the seniority. But a Hastings selection would attract widespread criticism from Republicans who will seize on his impeachment amid allegations of misconduct involving bribery. Hastings steadfastly maintained his innocence and was acquitted in 1983.
[At press time, Pelosi reportedly rejected a Hastings chairmanship.]
Meanwhile, Time magazine reported recently that the Justice Department is investigating whether Harman improperly sought assistance from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to get herself reappointed to the Intelligence Committee. Harman has denied any wrongdoing.
Pelosi has a range of options. She could reward a younger member of the caucus by giving him/her the gavel, though experience is important on the Intelligence Committee. It is also her right to replace any or all Democrats on the panel.
The decision that will cause the least friction is to pick Harman. The Blue Dogs, a group of conservative Democrats, want Harman in the chair. Pelosi needs the Blue Dogs to pass much of what she wants to pursue in the new Congress; upsetting them could backfire. The CBC would probably not balk at a Harman pick because she is now ranking member and several of their members will get other gavels.
Who would be upset with Harman? Many anti-Iraq war activists. Harman voted for the war in 2002. Hastings and Reyes voted no. Dicks voted yes.
Still, unity is key to the Democratic agenda in the next Congress. Our post-Nov. 7 hunch that Pelosi would not get involved in the Hoyer/Murtha race was proven to be wrong.
But we’ll risk another prediction. Pelosi saw how her decision to intervene in the majority leader race fractured her caucus, and knows how this next decision could trigger more angst. We suspect she’ll pick Harman.