We'll probably never know the backroom deals and political machinations that derailed Alcee Hastings' bid to become Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that Hastings, the panel's number two Democrat, would not be elevated to the chairman's post, when her party assumes control of the House in January. Ms. Pelosi also confirmed that (as expected) the committee's ranking Democrat, California Represenative Jane Harman, would be denied the Chairman's job.
It was no surprise that Harman didn't get the post, given her strained ties with Ms. Pelosi, and her support for Bush Administration intelligence efforts in the War on Terror. But the rejection of Hastings is a much more byzantine affair. The Florida Congressman (and impeached, former federal judge) was Pelosi's early pick for the critical intel job, when it became apparent that Harman would be passed over. Until yesterday, Ms. Pelosi appeared to be sticking with her choice, despite serious ethical concerns about Hastings's conduct. More on Mr. Hasting's checkered past (and present) can be found here.
Making matters tougher for Pelosi, Mr. Hastings badly wanted the intel chairmanship, and lobbied actively for the job. Hastings' bid was strongly supported by his colleagues in the Black Congressional Caucus, and a rejection of him would be viewed as a slap at one of Ms. Pelosi's most powerful constituencies. In fact, some members of the caucus still hold a grudge against Pelosi over a past pick for the intelligence panel. Six years ago, Ms. Pelosi actually maneuvered a member of caucus (Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop) off the committee, making room for Ms. Harman, who returned to the House after an unsuccessful run for the California governorship.
Now, it looks like Bishop may rejoin the committee as its new chair. His name is one of three "compromise" candidates being floated by the Democratic leadership; the others are Washington Representative Norman Dicks and Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes. I haven't dealt personally with these gentlemen, but any would be an improvement over Alcee Hastings.
Simply stated, a man of Hasting's questionable ethics and conduct should not be entrusted with the nation's most closely guarded intelligence secrets. The chairman of the intel committee typically has access to the "crown jewels" of our intelligence agencies; not just TS/SCI-level satellite and SIGINT information, but sub-compartmented, special access programs known only to a handful of intelligence, defense and political leaders. It's worth remembering that Jane Harman was one of the few members of Congress briefed on the NSA terrorist surveillance program before that effort was exposed by The New York Times. Ms. Harman wisely kept her mouth shut, and paid a price for her diligence by being rejected for the chairmanship. Thankfully, we'll never have to find out if Alcee Hastings was made of the same stuff.
With Mr. Hastings (thankfully) out of the picture, it will be interesting to see how Pelosi fills the chairman's position, and keeps the Black Caucus happy at the same time. That's why the early betting favors Mr. Bishop. By rejecting Hastings, Ms. Pelosi has avoided a major political minefield; the question is: will she walk into another one with her "next" choice to lead the intel committee?
One final thought: the rejection of Hastings demonstrates that conservative bloggers and talk show hosts still have influence in D.C., even if the Republicans are out-of-power. Opposition to Hastings for the intel post crystallized in talk radio and the blogosphere, prompting the Congressman to complain last week that "a decision against him would be a victory for Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Barone, Drudge, anonymous bloggers, and other assorted misinformed fools."
Score one for us.