By Charles Babington
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
The widely praised Sept. 11 commission recommended that members of the House and Senate intelligence committees stay for several terms to build expertise. But the top Democrat on the House committee may be booted in early 2007, and the reason has more to do with internal party politics than intelligence matters.
Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) has been the House intelligence panel's ranking Democrat for three years. She would like to hold the post several more years, and a January 2003 House rules change would seem to work in her favor. At the time, the GOP-controlled House exempted the intelligence committee's leadership from term limits in a bid to keep then-Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), now the CIA director. The rule change applied to the ranking minority member as well.
Nonetheless, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has told colleagues she plans to replace Harman with Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) when the 110th Congress convenes in January 2007, assuming all three members are reelected next year. Hastings, the committee's next-most-senior Democrat, is African American, and the Congressional Black Caucus strongly backs his claim on the post.
The CBC is an influential player in Pelosi's 202-member Democratic caucus, and its members are sensitive on this issue. They remember that black lawmaker Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) lost his January 2003 bid to be the intelligence committee's ranking Democrat when Pelosi gave the post to Harman. Bishop and his allies said he had greater seniority, noting that Harman had quit the House in 1998 to run unsuccessfully for governor. But Democratic leaders, in persuading Harman to reclaim her seat in 2000, had restored her committee seniority.
Bishop was placated with a coveted spot on the Appropriations Committee, but black Democrats do not want to be passed over again. Hastings said in an interview that Pelosi has signaled he will be the intelligence committee's top Democrat after the 2006 elections. "If we follow the pecking order, I'll be the ranking member or the chairman," he said.
Harman would say only that the decision is up to Pelosi, who preceded her as the committee's top Democrat and retains a strong interest in intelligence matters. Meanwhile, some of Harman's supporters in the intelligence community have quietly urged Pelosi to keep the Californian in the job. House insiders say they are unlikely to prevail.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly declined to discuss the rivalry except to say that his boss is "focused on current issues" and will deal with the 110th Congress when it convenes.Leahy Fails to Follow Precedent
There are certain phone calls a public official dreads, and chief justice nominee John G. Roberts Jr. thought he was receiving one Wednesday.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, was scheduled within minutes to announce whether he would vote for or against Roberts's confirmation. Suddenly, Leahy was on the line, and Roberts figured that could only be bad news.
Leahy previously had told Roberts of his long-standing practice of informing a nominee before publicly opposing his confirmation. "I told him that it has always been my tradition, if I am going to vote against them, to give them the courtesy of a call," Leahy told the Associated Press. "He said that, 'Yeah, I heard you were kind of old-school that way, so when my secretary told me you were on the phone I said, 'Oh darn.' "
As it turned out, Roberts had nothing to fear. Leahy endorsed his confirmation, as did two other committee Democrats the next day.Government's Six-Week Reprieve
Fiscal 2005 ends on Friday, and because Congress has not completed its 2006 spending bills, lawmakers must pass a continuing resolution to keep the government in business. The extension will last six weeks, running through Nov. 18. The House has completed its 2006 spending bills, but the Senate has passed eight, with four more to go.
Staff writer Shalaigh Murray contributed to this report.