Harman Versus Hastings

Okay. All day I've been pondering what to say about the Jane Harman versus Alcee Hastings controversy. The first thing of it is that I'd really prefer Harman not get the job. There's lots of good content in The New Republic. Nevertheless, when the magazine publishes a special web-only editorial urging Democrats to do something on a question of national security, a good ex ante bet is that you should do the reverse.

Harman has, frankly, all the wrong friends -- AIPAC, liberal hawks like Ken Baer, Marty Peretz is taking a personal interest in the matter, etc.

Now, K-Drum wonders if any of this really means anything -- after all, virtually all Democrats vote the AIPAC line one way or another, which is true enough. On the other hand, people who follow Israel policy issues seem reasonably convinced to me that it actually matters how many people in positions of power are "AIPAC enforcers" like Harman, probable Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House International Relations Committee Chair Tom Lantos. What's more, the knock on Hastings is that he's corrupt. But as Brad Plumer points out, it's not totally obvious that a person currently under federal investigation for possible illegal enlistment of AIPAC in lobbying for her committee post counts as a clean hands candidate. It's also worth saying that we're talking about an organization with a specific history of serving as a conduit for passing classified US information to a foreign government.

But there's also a broader issue here. Harman is, generaly speaking, a foreign policy hawk. What's more, like all people who voted for the Iraq War, she has a problem investigating the administration's pre-war manipulation of intelligence. In short, it's hard to fully expose this story without also exposing the extent to which the pro-war Democrats on the intelligence committees botched their own oversight jobs (Jay Rockefellar's dismal performance on the Senate intel panel is partially due to precisely this problem).

The trouble is that, say what you will about Harman and her allies, they actually do have the goods on Alcee Hastings. I find Pelosi's desire to replace Harman fully understandable, any personal rivalries between the two of them aside. But in this instance she's gone to war with a seriously flawed weapon and it's hard -- nigh on impossible, really -- to be an enthusiast about the Hastings proposal.

There's actually a way out of this intra-party quagmire -- pass over both Hastings and Harman and reach down to the number three Democrat on the panel in terms of seniority, Silvestre Reyes. Unlike the other two, there don't seem to me to be any real problems with Reyes. He even sort of fits the ethnic politics angles in this contretemps.