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November 29, 2006
We Love You Alcee, Especially When You Leave

It looks like House Democrats have convinced Nancy Pelosi that appointing an impeached federal judge to chair the Intelligence Committee gives them a rather bad start on cleaning up Dodge. Alcee Hastings did not care much for Pelosi's decision to pass him over for the slot, vowing to "haters" that he'll be back:

In a decision that could roil Democratic unity in the new House, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi passed over Rep. Alcee Hastings Tuesday for the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee.

Hastings, currently the No. 2 Democrat on the panel, had been aggressively making a case for the top position, supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Critics pointed out that he had been impeached when he was a federal judge and said naming him to such a sensitive post would be a mistake just as the Democrats take over House control pledging reforms.

"I am obviously disappointed with this decision," Hastings, D-Fla., said in a statement thanking his supporters. "I will be seeking better and bigger opportunities in a Democratic Congress." ... In a sign of the bitterness that has surrounded the debate, Hastings closed his statement by saying: "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."

The Congressional Black Caucus has not given any comment about the matter as yet, but they will not be happy with Pelosi's backpedal on the chair assignment. Three members of their caucus have sewn up chair assignments to committees, most notably Charles Rangel on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. That will not mollify them, as they have publicly backed Hastings for this slot, and already had some issues with Pelosi over her request to William Jefferson to step down from his committee assignments while under investigation by the DoJ for corruption.

They could threaten to abstain from the vote for Speaker, which would give the GOP an opportunity to win the gavel as the minority. The CBC has enough votes to strip the Democrats of their majority. It would be a bad idea for all concerned, though. A Republican speaker might give the GOP a thrill, but it would be a headache for the House, and would touch off a session of recriminations and backbiting that would dwarf the nastiness of the last three electoral cycles. We saw this in California when Willie Brown kept the gavel through some machinations with the razor-thin GOP majority, and this would be worse.

As for Alcee, we can only laugh at his suggestion that "haters" kept him from the chair. His own party is the one who impeached him, with members of the CBC fully supporting the action, especially founder John Conyers. When they ran on a clean government platform, he had to know that offering a disgraced judge removed for bribery for one of the important leadership positions would -- or should -- be a non-starter. No one hates Alcee ... we especially love him when he leaves.

UPDATE AND BUMP: It won't be Jane Harman either, according to the Washington Post (via Michelle Malkin):

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided against naming either Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, or Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), the panel's No. 2 Democrat, to chair the pivotal committee next year.

The decisions came despite lobbying by conservative Democrats on Harman's behalf and a full-throttled campaign by Hastings to overcome the stigma of the 1988 impeachment that drove him from his federal judgeship.

The fight over the top spot on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has exposed the kind of factional politics that bedeviled House Democrats before they were swept from control in 1994. Harman, a moderate, strong-on-defense "Blue Dog" Democrat, had angered liberals with her reluctance to challenge the Bush administration's use of intelligence. Hastings, an African American, was strongly backed by the Congressional Black Caucus but was ardently opposed by the Blue Dogs, who said his removal from the bench disqualifies him from such a sensitive post.

Complicating the matter was Pelosi's relationship with black Democrats. Earlier this year, she enraged the Black Caucus by removing one of its members, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), from the Ways and Means Committee after court documents revealed that federal investigators looking into allegations of bribery had found $90,000 in cash neatly bundled in his freezer.

Instead of picking Harman or Hastings, Pelosi will look for a compromise candidate, probably Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), but possibly Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.), a hawkish member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, or Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), a conservative African American with experience on the intelligence committee. To entice Harman to run in 2000 for a House seat she had vacated for an unsuccessful bid for the California governorship, the Democratic leadership shunted Bishop off the committee -- another perceived slap at black lawmakers.

First, we should acknowledge that the decision to pass over Hastings is one of the few smart moves the Democratic leadership has made since winning the midterms, as Liberal Goodman suggests in the comments. However, just as with Pelosi's endorsement of John Murtha in the leadership elections, the failure of Hastings puts a big dent in her perceived authority within the caucus and also still calls her judgment into question for letting the situation spiral out of control. Now she has a bigger problem on her hands, facing a revolt from two different factions of her caucus without ever having put her hand on the Speaker's gavel.

Reappointing Sanford Bishop to the committee and having him take the chair would appear to be the best possible solution. He's a member of the CBC and, at least according to the Post's description, ideologically compatible with the Blue Dogs. It would give Pelosi a way to assuage bruised feelings within both factions.

The Post article contains more information about Hastings and the acquittal in the criminal trial than the press reported before the elections. The House impeachment found that Hastings lied repeatedly at his trial, misrepresenting the facts about phone calls and other key evidence which later were exposed as falsehoods. That played a key role in the impeachment effort, as Conyers told the Senate as he presented the case for removal that the civil-rights effort did not exist to exchange one form of judicial corruption for another. It makes for fascinating reading, and had the Post bothered to report these details before the election, it's likely that Pelosi would never have remained as obstinate about Hastings as she did.

As for Harman, she won't get the chair under any circumstances. The whispers around the campfire paint her as a harpie who drove away good staffers from the Intelligence committee. That follows the aborted attempt to cast her as a target of a federal corruption investigation, an allegation proven false. However, it indicates that Harman probably doesn't have the support of enough Democrats to force Pelosi to retreat entirely.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 29, 2006 12:12 AM

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