Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The case against Jane Harman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With respect to the much-ballyhooed chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, I haven't exactly kept my support for Jane Harman hidden. I still think she's the right person for the job, but, if it's not to be, Rush Holt would be a fine choice (Josh Marshall thinks so, too.) And if not him, perhaps Silvestre Reyes. Anyone but Alcee Hastings.

My support for Harman puts me at odds with many of my liberal friends and fellow bloggers, including Glenn Greenwald (even if I agree with much of his assessment of the media's treatment of Nancy Pelosi), who has posted this:

So Harman has a history of defending the [Bush] administration's illegal intelligence activities. She was among the most gullible and/or deceitful when it came to disseminating the administration's most extreme (and most inaccurate) intelligence claims to "justify" the invasion of Iraq.

And so on (read it all). Glenn makes a compelling case (as usual). Harman's support for Bush's illegal domestic surveillance program may be a deal-breaker, but I'm not sure why her (mistaken) support for the Iraq War should necessarily disqualify her. Holt has been more consistent, but I tend to agree with Kevin Drum: "There... seems to be more than a whiff of retribution here against any Democrat who supported the war resolution, and that strikes me as pretty counterproductive. After all, nearly half the Democratic caucus supported the resolution, and we really don't want to declare every one of these folks persona non grata on all issues related to national security."

But, Iraq aside (and, yes, it's a big aside, but Democrats would do well not to excommunicate the Harmans among them), I do acknowledge that Harman hasn't been one of Bush's toughest critics. And for anyone who has objected to Bush's clear and present lawbreaking, as I have, that's a problem. (Although, perhaps her proximity to Bush on issues like surveillance would make her an even more compelling critic of such abuses in the chairmanship.) So let's just describe my support for Harman as "soft". She's not an ideal choice, but I think she would do well in the position.

(For more, see The Agonist, Yglesias, and Neil at Ezra.)

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  • Allow me another take on Rep. Harman's qualified support of the domestic surveillance program. Maybe, just maybe, she was being a good Democrat and backing her Majority Leader. When the surveillance program was first proposed and instituted, Jane Harman was not the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee - the ranking member at that time was Nancy Pelosi.

    Perhaps, just perhaps, another reason for downgrading Rep. Harman's status on the committee, in direct contravention to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, is to create further distance between Speaker Pelosi's link to the Intel Committee.

    Just a thought............

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:16 AM  

  • The Intel Committee is not meant to be a place for shrill controversy...there are plenty of other places to do that. The goal is to innovate a distinctly Democratic model of security policy--Jane has done that, even while dealing with the backward tendencies of this Republican Congress. No one else is as visible or has done more work to carry our Party's water. This was a critical "test" in the Congressional election and we passed it (but just barely).

    None of the other people being contemplated for HPSCI leadership have done as much as Jane in the public eye. The Congresswoman does dozens of press availabilities each year (every year), well more than any other member of the Committee. In light of the selective quote archeology, allow me raise the issue of the dog that didn't bark. Other than the Speaker-Designate, where have all the other Dems been in advancing the ball in framing our position on security policy. If Jane wasn't sufficiently muscular (the same quality that, perhaps, places her at odds with the House leadership), where were the other prospective HPSCI Chairs in pushing back against not only the Executive Branch, but also the unprecedented obfuscation of the House majority. There is no record to react to when none exists. (If we have learned nothing...isn't this cherry picking how we got into problems with Iraq, in the first instance?)

    Given the Google-friendly transcripts of the Congresswoman, it seems obvious to state that misquotes happen...misstatements happen...out-of-context fragments happen...and, yes, substantive errors also happen. (Just ask John Kerry or Howard Dean after their more memorable media episodes.) When you are as visible as the Congresswoman, you get some right, and, occasionally, you get some wrong. (It's especially possible to get it wrong, as Colin Powell did, when the administration is stacking the intelligence--Congress does not have an independent collection/analysis division, so every virtue of skepticism may, under differing circumstances, become a vice.)

    ON BALANCE, Jane has been on the side of reform and accountability--she understands the way that the place works and won't take guff from the bureaucratic types who have made a career out of outlasting green Members of Congress. If her value as an asset to the Congress and the House leadership cannot be clearly seen (leaving aside whatever personality friction might exist), then we have a lot to worry about. We risk repeating the divisive personal politics that the Republican side adopted, to their own discredit. In order to build a lasting Democratic majority in the House, it takes a TEAM effort. Rush Holt and Anna Eshoo have also been especially strong supporting players, but Jane has been the consistent standout and is deserving of more than what she has been shown by the incoming leadership.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:12 AM  

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