updated 8/16/2004 11:34:57 AM ET 2004-08-16T15:34:57

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee warned fellow Democrats in the Senate on Sunday against trying to block the nomination of Rep. Porter Goss as CIA director, saying that would be picking the wrong fight in this election year.

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Democrats should ask tough questions of Goss, R-Fla., at Senate confirmation hearings next month, but “my view is this is the wrong fight,” Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“To get stuck in a fight about Porter Goss after tough questions are asked of Porter Goss is not where we want to be this fall,” said Harman, who has no vote on the matter because the Senate confirms presidential nominees.

Goss resigned as chairman of the House intelligence panel last week after President Bush nominated him to replace George Tenet at CIA.

Harman said Congress should move swiftly to push through recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission, including creating a new national intelligence director.

Bush “missed an opportunity” for intelligence reform by nominating Goss as permanent CIA director, she said.

Many Democrats have criticized the selection of Goss, saying he is inappropriately partisan for a job that requires relaying objective advice to policy makers in the executive and legislative branches.

Mindful of 2002 experience
But Democrats also are mindful of the 2002 congressional elections in which the White House and Republicans put them in a political box regarding creation of the new Homeland Security Department.

Democrats opposed the Bush administration’s demand that some federal workers lose long-held civil service protections. But the GOP convinced many voters that Democrats were blocking important legislation to protect the country — even though the new department began as a Democratic plan.

Members of both parties returned from their August recess last week to attend hearings on the findings of the 9-11 Commission, which in late July released a scathing report on pre-Sept. 11 intelligence gathering, citing multiple failures.

Senate leaders want to enact changes the report suggested by the first week in October.

“It is an election year, but this issue transcends politics and terrorists do not wait,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said on “Meet the Press” that he thinks al-Qaida is “going to go back to heavy motorized explosions,” maybe even airplanes, in planning an attack, “because that’s what they do best.”

The threat of another attack before the election spurred Goss’ nomination.

And Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that a permanent CIA director is urgently needed.

An intelligence overhaul probably “will be subordinated for the moment” to focus on Goss’ nomination, Lugar said. “And Porter Goss is a good person to be at the president’s side.”

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