Who Will Head the House Intelligence Panel?

Who is incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi name as chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence? Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is out of the running.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

And now here's NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams with two of the sharpest minds inside the Beltway. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Thanks, Farai. I'm joined now by Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000. Ms. Brazile now runs her own political consulting firm here in Washington. And Robert Traynham, he's a GOP political strategist on Capitol Hill, and of course one of the wise men of American politics. So, Robert, Donna, thank you for joining us today.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic Political Strategist): Thank you, Juan.

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (Republican Political Strategist): Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Our first topic is Alcee Hastings, who has been told by Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker of the House, that he will not be the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. This was something of a disappointment to Mr. Hastings, who made quite the case for getting that post. Robert, is this seen as more of static dysfunction, division as Nancy Pelosi takes the reins of the Democrats in the House of Representatives?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Well, it's certainly static and division. It certainly gets them off message. I mean, look, Alcee Hastings made a very impassionate plea for this job. He released 70 pages of pro-Hastings materials, court documents, letters from members of Congress from both the Republican side and Democrat side. He literally tried to make his case with fire. He obviously had the Congressional Black Caucus behind him, but unfortunately that was not enough.

As we all know, Mr. Hastings was impeached on the vote of 413-3 back in 1988 for something that he allegedly did back in 1981. And obviously based on the platform that leader Pelosi - Speaker-elect Pelosi - ran on or and all the Democrats run on of cleaning Congress in the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal, she certainly could not jeopardize from a public relations standpoint having an impeached judge be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

WILLIAMS: Well, Donna, let's look at it, though, from the perspective of the Congressional Black Caucus. They were strongly behind Alcee Hastings, at least publicly. And then secondly, Alcee Hastings said, hey, wait a second, I was acquitted by a court on this issue. And then the question arose, well, maybe there were some alternatives. Maybe, you know, Silvestre Reyes, who's Hispanic from Texas, or Sanford Bishop, who's black from Georgia, could pull that post and therefore allow Hispanics, who don't have any committee chairmen coming in, to have one post; or allow Sanford Bishop, who had been denied the post when Jane Harman was given it in 2000, would be given a post. And you haven't an African-American as head of intelligence. What's the inside talk about this?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, I think for many weeks now Alcee Hastings, who is a real dignified man, knew that Speaker-elect Pelosi had a number of tough decisions to make. And I think following Ms. Pelosi's decision to back Mr. Murtha, she was in a box with the Blue Dog coalition and others who really wanted her to come up with a consensus candidate.

Now we don't know if she will bring back to the committee Sanford Bishop, who is an African-American from Georgia. He's a moderate. He's a Blue Dog Democrat. Perhaps she will select him. She has a number of other choices: Rush Holt, who's from New Jersey, Norm Dicks from Washington state. But she made a decision not to reappoint Jane Harman to the committee as well as not to elevate Mr. Hastings as chairman.

Pelosi has a lot of political capital with African-American voters. And let me just highlight the fact that she had a tough decision to make about a year and a half ago on the Homeland Security Committee, and she chose Bennie Thompson of Mississippi to be the ranking member. Now he's in line to become chairman. She had a tough decision to make about Ways and Means. There was an opening on that committee, and she appointed the first African-American woman, Stephanie Tubbs Jones.

So African-Americans will have a lot of political clout, a lot of political positions in this new Congress for major committee assignments as well as 16 sub-committees. The Hispanic Committee will have one incumbent chair, Nydia Velasquez in New York, who will - who's likely to chair the Small Business Committee. But this was a tough decision and she decided to go with someone fresh and new.

WILLIAMS: Who is she going to pick?

Ms. BRAZILE: You know, I don't know. I don't know who's on her short list, but what I'm hearing up on Capitol Hill is that this is very important. Look, Pelosi is a former member of the Intelligence Committee. She wants someone with some real strong national security bona fides. She believes this is an important committee to look at how the administration got us into the Iraq war.

She wants to use this committee to try to figure out if we're on the right track of getting out and winning the war on terrorism. So I think she's going to select someone that comes with a lot of support from the Intelligence Committee as well as someone with some strong national security…

WILLIAMS: And when can we expect that decision?

Ms. BRAZILE: I believe when the House reconvenes in the lame-duck session over the next week, Ms. Pelosi will make her decision public.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: There's two things that I think that we should mention that I find actually fascinating that's different from the Republican Party. I listened to Donna's rhetoric about leader Pelosi, quote, “picking someone.” On the Republican side, we don't do - we don't operate that way. It's simply on seniority, based on your hard work, your ethic and however long you've been in the Congress, and it's almost very totalitarian like for the Democratic Party…

Ms. BRAZILE: But this is by committee.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: …for the Democratic Party, and specifically for leader Pelosi, arguably the most liberal person in United States Congress, to elect someone. But the (unintelligible) about African-Americans. Look, there are 40 African-Americans in the United States Congress right now, and they will be sitting on some very prominent committees as chairman: Bennie Thompson, chairman of Homeland Security; John Conyers of Judiciary; Charlie Rangel from Ways and Means from New York; and Juanita McDonald from House Administration.

So there will be a lot of voices for African-Americans in positions of influence. But I think the bottom line is that if I'm leader Pelosi, I would make this announcement or quote, “this pick,” probably some time right before Christmas when no one is paying attention.

WILLIAMS: All right. Donna Brazile was campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000. She's now a professor who runs her own political consulting firm also here in Washington. And Robert Traynham, GOP political strategist here in Washington. Robert, Donna, thank you for joining us this week on Political Corner.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Juan. NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams joins me every Thursday to wrap up the latest news from Capitol Hill on Political Corner.

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