Columnist

During the uproar a few years ago over the CIA’s use of waterboarding, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told the agency he “wanted to find out for himself how it felt,” according to a new book by former CIA official Jose Rodriguez.

Rodriguez offers a spirited defense of the CIA’s use of waterboarding in the book, written with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. The book’s title sets the tone: “Hard Measures — How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.”

Rodriguez insists that “while the procedure is harsh and unpleasant,” it can’t be called torture.

Nonetheless, “the agency decided that it would not be wise to accommodate the senator’s thirst for knowledge,” Rodriguez writes. And while Nelson, known for liking to do his homework, “appeared to be in great shape,” he was in his mid-60s at the time.

“Even though we would have had medical personnel standing by, we wondered what would happen” if Nelson had a heart attack and died from the unpleasantness. (We understand he received a detailed briefing, but all aboveboard.)

Yes, one can imagine the headlines: “CIA torture kills senator.” Or, more charitably: “Senator dies of heart attack after a brief dunk in CIA pool.”

But Rodriguez points out it would have been even worse: If Nelson “had tragically died, his successor would have been appointed by . . . Jeb Bush, the president’s brother. The conspiracy theorists would have gone wild.”

No doubt.

(Actually, Republican Charlie Crist may have been governor then, but that really wouldn’t have daunted the conspiracy crowd.)

A resolution in the Senate

Richard Lugar’s loss Tuesday in the Indiana primary means an end to the long-standing and nasty little feud between him and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) over who is the longest-serving Republican senator.

We learned of this spat three years ago, when Hatch’s press secretary at the time, Andrea Saul (now working for Mitt Romney) wanted a correction in a column.

“You have Sen. Lugar listed as the longest-serving Republican senator. Sen. Hatch is actually the longest-serving GOP senator,” she wrote, and photos of them in the Senate chamber clearly show Hatch “is in the first GOP seat, with Lugar behind him.”

But on their Web sites, each one claimed to be the “most senior Republican,” and Lugar’s site even notes that he is most senior and that Hatch was the second-most. (You might see this matter as meaningless, but the senators obviously care.)

So we kept digging.

Both lawmakers were sworn in on the same day — Jan. 3, 1977. There are numerous criteria set by the Senate Rules Committee for determining seniority when senators are sworn in on the same day. These include whether you’ve been in the House or have been a governor or a Cabinet member. If there is still a tie, senators are ranked in terms of their state’s population at the time of their swearing-in.

Under those rules, the edge would go to Lugar. The Senate historian’s office uses those rules to decide who’s senior for historical purposes, we were told, which is why Lugar is ranked 1,705th senator (out of a total of 1,911) and Hatch is 1,708th. It’s also why Lugar has a lower Senate license plate number. (Ah, there’s a prize worth having.)

But the Republican caucus has the ultimate say on this and under GOP rules when Hatch and Lugar were first elected, the alphabet, not state size, was the final say. Under those rules, Hatch is obviously No. 1.

Lugar’s defeat Tuesday — and Hatch’s very likely win in his primary next month and then in November — would put an end to the debate.

Hatch’s office declined to comment. But passersby thought they heard chants inside his office of “we’re number one.”

Nominee stepping down

President Obama’s nominee to be the third-ranking official at the Department of Energy is stepping down, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced on Wednesday.

In an e-mail to department employees, Chu said Arun Majumdar , the acting undersecretary of energy and the White House’s nominee to permanently fill the slot, is leaving next month. “Arun has been an invaluable resource to me, to the Department, and to the Administration, and we will miss his leadership,” Chu wrote.

Majumdar also is the director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, an agency modeled on DARPA within the Energy Department, created in 2009 to encourage research and development of new technologies.

Eric Toone will replace Majumdar at ARPA-E and David Sandalow has been named acting undersecretary of energy, Chu announced. Toone is ARPA-E’s deputy director of technology; Sandalow is the department’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/intheloop.