House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) named Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) chairman of the House intelligence committee yesterday and then added a string of outspoken liberal Democrats to round out the panel.
The assignments left Republicans fuming.
"It set off a lot of alarm bells," said one GOP aide. "Their oversight has a relationship to what is going on in the Persian Gulf."
The appointment of McCurdy, who is in line to serve four years as chairman, came after an unsuccessful campaign against him by some liberal House members who consider him too conservative and out of step with the Democratic majority in the House.
Foley rejected those overtures but balanced the choice of McCurdy, the ranking Democrat on the panel, with the other assignments. With five Democratic vacancies to fill, Foley named Reps. Ronald V. Dellums (Calif.), David E. Bonior (Mich.), Martin Olav Sabo (Minn.) and Wayne Owens (Utah), all liberals, and Norman D. Dicks (Wash.), a moderate and close Foley ally who was immediately dubbed "the speaker's man" on the committee.
Assuming they are reelected, each may serve the maximum six-year term on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Dellums, chairman of the House Armed Services research and development subcommittee, has been a leader in efforts to kill the B-2 "stealth" bomber and is probably the most vociferous Democratic opponent of large military budgets. He served on the original House intelligence committee, headed by then-Rep. Otis Pike (D-N.Y.), that investigated unlawful and improper activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other U.S. intelligence agencies in the 1970s.
Bonior, a member of the Rules Committee, helped lead Democratic efforts over the years against aid to the Nicaraguan contra rebels. According to informed sources, he also was one of those who tried to block McCurdy's appointment. Foley was urged to keep Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Calif.) as chairman by extending the terms of all intelligence committee members to eight years.
An aide to the speaker said Foley decided to act in accord with "regular order."
Sabo is chairman of the liberal House Democratic Study Group.
Owens has a moderately liberal voting record, and sources said he had wanted an appointment to the Energy and Commerce Committee, but Foley, unable to do that, rewarded him with a seat on the intelligence panel instead.
The speaker's determination to name so many liberals caused so much consternation in GOP ranks that House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) raised the issue in a private discussion with Foley.
All five new Democrats voted against the use of force in the Persian Gulf, as did Foley. McCurdy voted for it.
"It's further proof of the hard left domination of the Democratic caucus," Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.), the GOP whip, complained to a reporter. "They put people on Armed Services who don't believe in the military. They put people on Foreign Affairs who don't believe in an effective foreign policy and who believe in unilateral disarmament. So it makes perfect sense they would put people in the intelligence committee who don't believe in intelligence gathering."
Despite the GOP complaints, an aide to Foley said the overall committee will prove to be "slightly more moderate" than the one it replaces. The five new Democrats succeed Reps. Beilenson, Robert W. Kastenmeier (Wis.), Matthew F. McHugh (N.Y.) and Bernard J. Dwyer (N.J.), all liberals, and Robert A. Roe (N.J.), a moderately liberal member.
The three new Republicans on the committee, named weeks ago by Michel, are Reps. George W. Gekas (Pa.), David O'B. Martin (N.Y.) and C.W. Bill Young (Fla.). The full panel has 12 Democrats and seven Republicans. The new ranking Republican is Rep. Bud Shuster (Pa.) and the new ranking Democrat is Rep. Charles Wilson (Tex.).