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Rank Would Guide Pelosi As She Chose Chairmen

Some Republicans have steered clear of those lines of attack. House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said he has "worked closely" with Waxman, the ranking Democrat.

Misgivings exist in Democratic ranks as well. Several moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of fraying party unity, specifically mentioned two members: Conyers, who has already laid out what he says are grounds to impeach President Bush, and Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), a senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, who was impeached and removed from his federal judgeship in 1989 for conspiring to take a $150,000 bribe and give light sentences to two convicted swindlers.

Hastings has already become something of a campaign issue. At a recent event featuring Democratic challenger Heath Shuler, an aide to his opponent, Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.), called out that a Democratic majority would let Hastings into the inner sanctums of the intelligence world.

Such concerns have placed Pelosi in a squeeze between conservative Democrats, who could be responsible for swinging the balance of power next month, and minority lawmakers who are demanding that Pelosi respect the seniority system.

For now, she is largely siding with the congressional black and Hispanic caucuses, whose ranks would provide at least half a dozen chairmen by seniority. Three black lawmakers have already received pledges: Pelosi aides gave strong assurances that Conyers would become Judiciary Committee chairman and that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) would become chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. In a private meeting, Pelosi told Rangel that he would take over the Ways and Means Committee.

In the same meeting, she assured Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) that she would back his return to the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a post he used in the 1980s and 1990s to become one of the most powerful and feared figures in Congress.

She also told Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) that he would have her support to take back the reins of the Appropriations Committee.

But there are caveats. Parts of Dingell's former domain that Republicans took away from the energy committee, such as oversight over the Securities and Exchange Commission, will not be returned, leadership aides said. And Pelosi has made it clear that she wants Waxman, on the Government Reform Committee, not Dingell, to take the lead on investigations.

The intelligence committee remains the biggest problem. The senior Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), wants the chairmanship and has the strong backing of the Blue Dogs. But personal friction between Harman and Pelosi virtually ensures that Harman will not remain on the committee, according to lawmakers and aides close to Pelosi.

Hastings would be next in line, but conservative Democrats are adamantly opposed. Skipping over him would be problematic, however. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) was the last black lawmaker in line for the sensitive committee chairmanship. But to lure Harman out of retirement in 2000, Pelosi and then-House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) promised she would get the top Democratic slot on the panel. Bishop was eased off the committee with a plum seat on the appropriations panel.

In light of that history, skipping over Hastings might cause a real rupture with the Congressional Black Caucus, Pelosi aides fear. Tensions between Pelosi and the caucus flared earlier this year when she successfully pushed to remove the ethically tainted William J. Jefferson (D-La.) from the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson is under federal investigation as part of a bribery and corruption case.

Leadership aides have begun floating a compromise, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), the third-ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, hoping that a minority choice would soothe bruised feelings.

"Reyes would be a fabulous choice," said one Blue Dog lawmaker. "It would show no lack of sensitivity to minorities, and it would be a compromise that would take care of a lot of issues."

The Congressional Black Caucus, headed by Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), is having none of it, however.

"The CBC would not look kindly on that," said caucus spokeswoman Myra Dandridge. "The first order of business of the CBC chairman would be to protect his members, and Alcee Hastings has the seniority, the knowledge and the experience to be chairman of the intelligence committee."

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

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