Pelosi Shuts Hastings Out of Intel Chairmanship

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has decided not to choose Rep. Alcee Hastings to be chair of the House Intelligence Committee when the new Congress convenes in January. The Congressional Black Caucus had lobbied for Hastings to get the job.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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It's a decision that people on Capitol Hill have been anxiously awaiting. Today, House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi announced that the next chair of the House Intelligence Committee will not be Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings. Hastings was strongly backed by the Congressional Black Caucus. Earlier, Pelosi made it clear that the post would not go to Jane Harman of California, either. She's the most senior Democrat on the panel.

NPR's Brian Naylor joins us now and Brian, walk us through all this. Explain why the job didn't go to Jane Harman, and why now it won't also go to Alcee Hastings.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Michele, it's a little bit strange. There's a lot of gossip behind the stairs here at the Capitol. No one is saying exactly why Pelosi won't give the job to Harman. It's been the subject, perhaps because she's lobbied too publicly for the job and is too interested in the spotlight. There are some substandard issues as well, excuse me.

Pelosi feels that as ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, Harman wasn't a tough enough critic of the Bush Administration on national security issues, especially the warrantless wire-tapping program, and she wants someone as chairman who'll take a more forceful line with the White House.

NORRIS: So we know who's not going to sit in that chair. Who's still in contention?

NAYLOR: Well, there are a number of names. First let me talk a little bit about Alcee Hastings. He had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, and the big issue that he had to overcome was that as a federal judge back in the 1980s, he was impeached by Congress and removed from the bench because of allegations that he asked for a $150,000 bribe. Critics said that that made him the wrong choice for such a sensitive post. He had written a letter to his colleagues explaining his side of the case and requested a meeting with Pelosi, and that meeting occurred this afternoon, and Pelosi told him face to face he wasn't getting the job. Hastings put out a statement saying that he was disappointed by the decision, that he was seeking bigger and better opportunities in a Democratic Congress and that, quote, "Sorry haters, God is not finished with me yet."

NORRIS: Now the other part of that question, Brian. Who's still in contention now?

NAYLOR: Well, next in line for the post is Sylvester Reyes. He's a Democrat from Texas and he has not waged the kind of public campaign for the job that Hastings did and that Harman did, and that might help him in Pelosi's eyes. Another name that's been mentioned for the post is Sanford Bishop of Georgia, an African American who used to serve on the committee and who would smooth things over with the Black Caucus. And there's been other names mentioned as well. Russ Holt from New Jersey and Norm Dicks from Washington are just two.

NORRIS: When is a decision likely to be made?

NAYLOR: Pelosi's office will only say in the future, so stay tuned.

NORRIS: And there's much made of the fact that she backed, I guess you could say the wrong horse for majority leader when she backed John Murtha. Is that still some topic of discussion that she seems to have her own mind in these things?

NAYLOR: Yeah, it's been a tough couple of weeks for Nancy Pelosi. After winning the majority on November 7, she's been kind of introduced to some of the problems and potentials of power. First she backed Murtha in the race for majority leader. Stenny Hoyer got the job overwhelmingly.

And now she has this decision, which is likely to leave some bruised feelings with members of the Black Caucus. They were already upset that she removed Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson from the Ways and Means Committee. So it's been tough.

NORRIS: Thank you, Brian.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Brian Naylor.

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