Harman resignation reduces ranks of House Democratic centrists

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) will resign from Congress on Tuesday, a surprise announcement that will set off a special election in her 36th district. Harman reportedly intends to become president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 7, 2011; 8:30 PM

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said Monday that she will resign from Congress, a announcement that came as a surprise to many in her party and served as the latest blow to the diminished ranks of the centrist wing of the Democratic caucus.

Harman added in an e-mail sent to supporters that she was "in discussions" to take over the presidency of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The think tank is currently run by former representative Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), who like Harman believes in a muscular foreign policy that has at times run afoul of the liberal wing of the Democratic party.

The center is expected to name a new president Tuesday.

"This is an excruciating decision because the distinction of representing the smartest constituents on earth will never be surpassed - nor will my relationships with my exceptional staff and colleagues in Congress," Harman wrote.

Harman, 65, has held the southern California 36th district for all but two years since 1992. She gave up the seat to run for governor in 1998, losing a primary to Lt. Gov. Gray Davis. Two years later, she ousted the man who had replaced her in Washington, Republican Rep. Steve Kuykendall.

Harman's district has grown to be a reliably Democratic seat. President Obama won the district in the 2008 presidential race by 30 points and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried it by 19 in 2004.

Even so, she won only 60 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary last year, an indication of discontent among her party's base with some of her centrist positions.

In Washington, her views on foreign policy - she initially supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003 - placed her outside the mainstream of a caucus dominated by liberals.

When one of those liberals, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), became her party's House leader in January 2003, Harman succeeded her as the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, a post that Harman relished. However, when Democrats seized the majority in 2007, Pelosi denied her the chairmanship of the committee, giving it instead to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.).

Harman remained a powerful figure as a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, from which she oversaw a subcommittee on intelligence information coordination.

kanep@washpost.com chris.cillizza@wpost.com

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