President of the OSCE PA, Alcee Hastings
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Rep. Alcee Hastings, D- Fla., faces a challenge from Rep. Jane Harman, D- Calif., for the post of House Intelligence Committee chairman.
msnbc.com
updated 11/28/2006 5:48:00 PM ET 2006-11-28T22:48:00

Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has told Rep. Alcee Hastings, D- Fla., that he will not be the Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

According to a Democratic congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Pelosi  has not yet decided who will be given the position when the new Congress convenes in January.

By seniority, California Rep. Jane Harman should lead the Intelligence Committee, but Pelosi has reportedly told Harman she won’t be reappointed to the committee.

Harman is the senior Democrat on that panel and has served on it for eight years. Washington insiders saw Harman as the natural choice for head of the panel due to her high profile in the national media and her familiarity with intelligence issues.

Pelosi was said to have preferred Hastings, who has served on the panel for seven years and has support from the Congressional Black Caucus and from a large number of the left-leaning House Progressive Caucus.

Hastings however, would have been a controversial choice. A former federal judge, he was charged in an FBI bribery sting and was acquitted by a federal jury. He was later impeached by the House and removed from the bench in 1989 by the Senate.

Pelosi's option
Under the rules of the House, the choice of intelligence chairman is up to Pelosi. She doesn't need ratification by the Democratic Steering Committee or by the full Democratic membership.

Pelosi and Harman have had a difficult relationship; they disagreed, for example, on the invasion of Iraq in 2003: Harman was one of 81 House Democrats supporting it, while Pelosi opposed it.

“Do I think what we're doing today means we're going to war? No. I think we're standing up to evil,” Harman said when the House voted to authorize Bush to attack Iraq in 2002.

Hastings, like Pelosi and most House Democrats, voted against the 2002 war resolution.

Hastings is also one of fewer than a dozen federal judges in U.S. history to be removed from office by the Senate in an impeachment trial. He was a federal judge appointed in 1979 by President Carter.

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In 1989 the Democratic-majority House impeached him and the Democratic-majority Senate tried him on charges of conspiring to extract a bribe from two drug dealers in exchange for reducing their sentences. The Senate voted to remove him from the bench.

Pelosi’s support for Hastings had drawn fire from the New Republic, a Washington magazine which speaks for centrist and liberal Democrats. The magazine said in an editorial that Pelosi’s choice of Hastings was “both substantively foolish and politically tone-deaf.”

“Pelosi doesn't want to skip over a black member like Hastings for fear of angering the Congressional Black Caucus,” said the New Republic editors.

One possibility option for Pelosi: former Intelligence Committee member Rep. Sanford Bishop, a centrist African-American member from Georgia.

Blue Dogs back Harman
Meantime, the Blue Dog Coalition — a phalanx of 44 centrist House Democrats — has drafted a letter endorsing Harman, a Blue Dog member, to run the intelligence committee.

At a press conference at the Capitol on Nov. 15, Blue Dog communications spokesman Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas said, “Jane Harman may very well be chair of the intelligence committee,” a prediction that drew only a cryptic smile from Harman who was standing near Ross. 

Explaining why the Blue Dog Democrats are issuing a letter of support for Harman, a Democratic House source who is familiar with their thinking, said, “Blue Dog members are fired up; they want to flex their muscles.”

The source agreed that the Blue Dog challenge to Pelosi, a very public gesture, unlike the secret-ballot vote on majority leader, is a risky move for the group.

The Blue Dog members come mostly from rural and Southern districts where Democrats have been especially weak in the past 25 years and where Pelosi, a San Francisco liberal, would have little appeal.

Two examples: Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and newly elected Rep.-elect Michael Arcuri from upstate New York, who’ll hold a district now represented by Republican Sherwood Boehlert.

Yet Pelosi may need the Blue Dog Coalition as much as they need her, or perhaps more.

It is a make-or-break group that can affect Pelosi’s ability to get legislation enacted in the House. Their 44 votes account for about 20 percent of Democratic membership in the new House.

Blue Dog leaders made a point of stressing their independence from party leaders in their debut event Wednesday. “We’re not going to be a rubber stamp for anyone,” said Rep. Mike Ross, D- Ark, the Blue Dogs spokesman.

MSNBC.com's Tom Curry and NBC's Mike Viqueira contributed to this story.

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