"I will continue to make my views known," South Bay lawmaker
says after Pelosi ejects her from a key House Intelligence
WASHINGTON -- South Bay Rep. Jane Harman, formally nudged
from a key leadership post Friday, nevertheless promised to
ensure a smooth transition for her successor as top Democrat
on the House Intelligence Committee.
"In this journey of
life, you have to take a few knocks," Harman said a few
hours after incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi handed the
committee chairman's gavel to Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.
Pelosi's decision capped an unusually public spat between
the two high-profile California Democrats and was one of the
most bitter blows of Harman's political career. Under normal
circumstances, she would have become chairwoman of the
Intelligence Committee when Democrats take control of the
House in January.
Harman, 61, has been the top-ranking Democrat on the
committee since 2003 and one of the party's leading voices
on national security issues. Pelosi, D-San Francisco, had
appointed her to the post, but their relationship
deteriorated in recent years over political and personality
clashes, observers on Capitol Hill have said.
As a moderate with a reputation for being hawkish on
defense issues, Harman has been criticized by some Democrats
for not being a harsher critic of the Bush administration on
the Iraq war and controversial domestic surveillance
programs set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Harman
can be abrasive at times, some insiders said, and Pelosi
also resented the amount of media attention Harman was
getting as an expert on national security.
But Harman's defenders inside and outside Congress said
she was one of the most competent defense and intelligence
authorities on Capitol Hill and that Pelosi appeared blind
to the broader ramifications of replacing her.
Reyes, a five-term Democrat from El Paso, is also
considered a moderate. But, unlike Harman, he voted against
authorizing the Iraq war.
"I felt very strongly at the time that the intelligence
was being manipulated and cherry-picked to make the case to
go into Iraq," Reyes told reporters Friday. "There will be
serious oversight (going forward). We want to hold people
Harman promised to "do everything I can to make the
transition a smooth one" and said she would get to work on
an "exit memo" for Reyes. One thing she plans to highlight
is the need for changes in the way Congress handles its
oversight of intelligence issues -- something it has been
slow to do despite recommendations from a blue-ribbon
commission that studied the 9-11 terrorist attacks and their
In particular, Harman said in a speech to the American
Bar Association, the intelligence budget, which sprawls
across numerous agencies, needs to be integrated; the entire
committee, not just its leaders, should be briefed on
top-secret programs; and, touching on her own situation,
terms on the committee should not be limited.
"I do feel that ... everyone's terms should be
permanent," she said. "My term under the rules was a
permanent one, but (Pelosi) had the right to make the
change, and so she did."
Harman said Pelosi phoned her around 9:30 a.m. to inform
her of her decision. "I'm very pleased that my successor is
Silver Reyes, a man I've worked with closely," Harman said,
using a nickname for Reyes.
In a written statement, Pelosi said Harman "served with
distinction in her four years as ranking member of the
Intelligence Committee. She has worked tirelessly under
difficult circumstances to make sure that our intelligence
agencies had the resources, direction and leadership needed
to do their jobs well."
Pelosi first made clear her intention to replace Harman a
year ago. She faced pressure from the congressional black
and Latino caucuses to name one of their members to head the
committee, especially since a black leader was passed over
so Harman could become ranking Democrat to fulfill a promise
party leaders made to her in 2000.
Earlier this week, Pelosi dropped her first choice for
chairman, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., after a wave of
negative publicity about Hastings' impeachment as a federal
judge in 1989 after bribery and perjury charges.
"If I'm looked at as a compromise candidate, I'm fine
with that," Reyes said. "I think I have very strong
credentials that could stand up to anybody's."
Reyes served in the Army in Vietnam and spent three
decades in the Border Patrol before he was elected to the
House in 1996. He was noted for cutting by half the flow of
illegal immigrants through El Paso after stationing hundreds
of agents at the border there.
Some intelligence experts said Reyes has kept a low
profile on the Intelligence Committee and is an unknown
quantity in his new role as chairman.
"I think he obviously brings some experience to the job.
But I must say I don't know much about him," Loch Johnson, a
former committee staff member, said .
Harman will "be very hard to replace, and I think the
committee will float for a while," said Johnson, who is now
a professor at the University of Georgia. "I think she was
uniquely well-prepared to be the next chair. She's very
bright, she's committed to oversight and understands the
importance of Congress' role in intelligence."
Harman said she still intends to have a voice on national
security through senior positions on the House Homeland
Security and Energy and Commerce committees.
"I will continue to make my views known, I hope in a
constructive way, and to represent ... the position that the
Democratic caucus has to take if we want to stay in the
majority," she said.
Capping her speech to the Bar Association with a wistful
air, she said: "There has been a lot of attention paid to
this over the last couple months, and I have been incredibly
humbled by the interest of editorial boards and bloggers and
op-ed writers, even my own family.
"My 22-year-old, who doesn't read newspapers, is clued
in. She said to me yesterday, 'Mom, you're a tough cookie.'
OK, I'll take that. And if I can teach her that in this
journey of life you have to take a few knocks, then that's a