The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to confirm Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) as the new head of the CIA, brushing aside complaints from some Democrats that he is too partisan and insufficiently interested in reform to head the embattled agency.
The vote was 77 to 17, with 28 Democrats joining all Republicans who were on hand in supporting Goss to succeed George J. Tenet, who resigned this summer amid mounting criticism of the CIA. Some Democrats who voted for Goss expressed reservations about his suitability.
The vote came as Congress continued moving toward enactment of legislation to reorganize the nation's intelligence apparatus in the wake of failures preceding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and miscalculations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The House and Senate advanced separate bills that would embrace some of the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations. Some lawmakers want Congress to wait until after the Nov. 2 elections to undertake the mission, but GOP leaders say they are determined to address at least some of the issues before adjourning next month.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill sponsored by its chairman, Susan Collins (R-Maine), and ranking Democrat, Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.). The bill would create a national intelligence director with significant budgetary, planning and supervisory powers over the government's scattered intelligence-gathering agencies.
In the House, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) began circulating a bill he plans to introduce today. Some Democrats and the American Civil Liberties Union complained that it seems to go beyond the commission's recommendations by adding anti-crime proposals that would expand the USA Patriot Act. For example, it would allow federal agents to obtain secret warrants for "lone wolf" suspects not connected to a terrorist group or nation, as well as identification requirements aimed at illegal immigrants, the critics said.
The Senate's nearly six hours of debate over Goss's nomination focused largely on whether the former CIA officer and eight-term member of the House is the right man to be director of central intelligence when there are widespread demands for major changes in the way the CIA and the other agencies operate.
The intensity of the debate was also fueled by suggestions from some key Republicans that Goss may be considered for the job of new national intelligence director with broader powers than those held by the CIA chief, a post that Congress is likely to create in response to recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission.
Rejecting suggestions that Goss was too partisan, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said Goss understands the need for reform and a nonpartisan approach in making what he called a "fresh start for our nation's intelligence community."
During hearings before the intelligence panel, which voted 12 to 4 to approve his nomination Tuesday, Goss "demonstrated the qualities that are needed in the job -- coolness under pressure, a willingness to look at alternative views and, very important, a willingness to take a few licks for past judgments," Roberts said.
"Most important of all," Roberts added, "he demonstrated his ability to put the lawmaker's so-called partisan hat aside and take up the strictly nonpartisan duties of this critical executive branch office."
Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel, disagreed. While Goss is an "extremely knowledgeable person" and qualified in many respects for the job, Rockefeller said, "there is serious doubt in my mind that Porter Goss can be the type of nonpartisan, independent and objective intelligence adviser that our country needs."
He said Goss has mischaracterized the intelligence record of John F. Kerry and other Democrats, while avoiding any criticism of Republicans.
Although Goss's time as a CIA case officer has given confidence to some intelligence officers, others say he will have to prove he is willing to work hard enough to master and direct the challenges of a post-Sept. 11 world. Goss was about to retire when he was tapped by the White House.
Skeptics inside the agency also say Goss never challenged the administration over the quality of intelligence available on Iraq before the war, although the caveats were available to him. Then, as chairman of the House intelligence committee, he refused to allow the panel to complete a timely study of the prewar intelligence process that led the inaccuracies.
All Washington area senators voted for Goss except Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.).
Staff writers Dan Eggen and Dana Priest contributed to this report.