Pelosi, Harman Have Long History
By Ben Pershing
In 1998, Jane Harman left the House and spent tens of millions of dollars on a failed bid for governor of California. After that loss, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was one of the first people to encourage Harman to come back to Congress. And why wouldn't she? The two women had worked together for years, serving in the House and toiling in the trenches of California Democratic politics. Pelosi even helped recruit Harman to run for Congress in the first place in 1992.
But relations between the pair have soured since Harman returned to the Capitol in 2001, and the feud between her and Pelosi provides a fascinating backdrop to the current controversy that has engulfed Harman -- her alleged willingness to intervene in the prosecution of two AIPAC officials in exchange for help in lobbying Pelosi to make Harman Intelligence Committee chair in 2006.
First, why did Harman need help to become chairwoman? She was the top Democrat already on the Intelligence panel, so why wasn't Pelosi prepared to give her the gavel when the party took the majority?
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Pelosi addressed this subject at length:
"Jane was there for two terms. When she leap-frogged over the others, I said, that's just for two terms. So when we took the majority, the idea that Jane would have three terms, was inconsistent with the commitment that I had made and the custom that we had and continue to have. So the only reason Jane is not chairman is because she served two terms. It had nothing to do with her position on Iraq, had nothing to do with donors, had nothing to do with eavesdropping, what are we calling it, wiretapping. It had nothing to do with anything. It only had to do with the fact that this extraordinarily talented member of Congress had served her two terms."
So is that all it was -- term limits? It's worth noting that when Pelosi made the decision, she was not constrained by any term-limit rule. As Speaker, she was well within her authority to give Harman another term as the Intelligence panel's top Democrat, just as Republicans had done for then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) in 2003. And while the term-limit issue was raised at the time Harman got bumped, it appeared to take a back seat to other, behind-the-scenes factors. There seemed to be multiple reasons Harman didn't get the job, some related to the differences between Harman and Pelosi, and the others related to broader, internal House Democratic politics.
Yesterday's Washington Post quoted a Pelosi aide as saying that the Speaker decided not to give Harman the chairmanship "for ideological reasons." Harman is a centrist, particularly on defense and intelligence matters. She supported going to war in Iraq (Pelosi was opposed), and she even helped the Bush administration in 2004, we now know, by calling the New York Times and urging the paper not to publish details of the government's warrantless wiretapping program.
But beyond those ideological differences, there is also evidence that Harman was getting on Pelosi's nerves. The Speaker acknowledged yesterday that "many, many, many of Jane's friends" talked to her about making Harman Intelligence chair. And yesterday's Post also quoted a Harman friend saying, "Jane was pulling every lever -- the Hill, downtown -- everything. It got to the point that you wanted to head the other way when you saw her coming. She wouldn't let it go." Contemporaneous reports support that account.
At the time, Pelosi was reported to be irritated by the aggressiveness of Harman's campaigning for the job. In early 2005, more than a year before the post would be handed out, Pelosi's allies were already grumbling privately that Harman was hurting her own cause. "If Harman really wanted to keep this job, she went about it in the wrong way," a source close to Pelosi told Roll Call at the time. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times quoted a House aide saying, "The biggest mistake Jane made was lining up people to lobby. People went over the line lobbying for her. Now Nancy is very angry."
It's true that all those reports in 2005 and 2006 citing Pelosi's anger were based on anonymous sources. It's also true that neither Pelosi nor her office ever sought to refute those reports at the time they were published. Pelosi said Tuesday, "Everybody knows that I don't respond to threats," and that was definitely true of Harman's lobbying effort.
In fact, tensions between Pelosi and Harman may go back several years earlier. The L.A. Times has previously suggested that Harman may have annoyed Pelosi during the 2001 redistricting process -- which Pelosi helped control -- when she complained that Los Angeles International Airport wasn't being included in her newly-drawn district.
But when it came time to hand out the Intelligence gavel in 2006, there was more at play than just Pelosi's opinion of Harman. When Harman returned to the House after her gubernatorial bid, she was allowed to retain her seniority on the Intelligence Committee. In the process, she knocked Rep, Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), a popular member of the Congressional Black Caucus, off of the panel. And she bumped another CBC member, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), down a slot on the committee roster.
The CBC has always been a big player in lobbying to ensure its members get their fair share of choice committee slots. So when Harman had already served two terms as the Intelligence panel's top Democrat (some past reports have suggested Harman promised Pelosi she would only serve two terms in the job), Pelosi knew that if she let Harman stay in the post and become chairwoman, she might have an angry CBC on her hands. In the end, Pelosi passed over both Harman and Hastings -- who has some controversy in his own background -- and gave the job to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), a member of another key group, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Harman never seems to have aspired to a leadership post, so she never has and never would challenge Pelosi's authority directly. But the two women have competed for another role -- as the leading Democratic voice on intelligence matters. It's worth remembering that before Harman took the party's top job on the Intelligence panel, Pelosi herself held the post. The Speaker sees herself as an expert on the issue, having spent a decade on the committee, and so she likely didn't appreciate Harman's efforts to position herself as a party spokeswoman on the topic. Especially since the two disagreed on substantive topics like Iraq. During her quest to become Intelligence chair, Harman was a frequent presence on television, appearing far more often than did the leader of her own caucus.
Now, after all that history, Pelosi has been cast in the unlikely role of Harman's defender. "I have great confidence in Jane Harman," Pelosi said yesterday. "She's a patriotic American. She would never do anything to hurt her country."
April 23, 2009; 9:25 AM ET
Categories: Dem. Leaders
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