Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pelosi-Harman Conflict Reveals Party Problems

The brewing battle between incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is an interesting case study on the ways of power in Washington. The flap provides insights not just to party leadership battles, but to the seniority system in Congress as well. Most of all, the most recent Democratic bad blood supplies further evidence of Pelosi's leadership missteps.

This Los Angeles Times piece has the initial details:

When Jane Harman left Congress in 1998 to run for governor of California, her colleague Nancy Pelosi threw her a party — a chocolate-fudge sundae "social" in the House members' dining room.

Two years later, Harman hosted a fundraiser in Los Angeles for Pelosi when she was running for minority whip, raising $400,000.

These days the two rarely talk, much less throw parties for each other.

Their relationship has been deteriorating since Harman returned to the House in 2001, according to those who know them, and the tension now threatens to complicate Pelosi's role as House speaker when the 110th Congress convenes in January.

Pelosi indicated as early as last year that she intended to oust Harman from the Intelligence Committee — where Harman expected to become chairwoman if Democrats won control of the House — in favor of someone more to Pelosi's liking.

The move has created dissension within the party. Some Democrats and foreign policy experts argued that Harman, a centrist on national security, is the most credible person for the job. The Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses countered that it was time for one of their members on the committee to take the helm.

Fresh from Pelosi's fierce and unsuccessful lobbying effort to install antiwar ally John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania as her No. 2, the coming battle over the Intelligence Committee leadership is turning into a showdown where the political has turned personal. And it could undermine the unity that the Democratic Party has hoped to show as it prepares to take the reins of power.
Read the whole thing -- this is a particulary insightful piece. One of my students in class today asked about one of the issues the article raises: Is Pelosi jealous of Harman's frequent appearances on the weekend talk shows as the ranking Democrat of House Intelligence? It turns out that Harman's been invited to the Sunday shows 18 times in the last couple of years, three times to that of Pelosi. As the Times piece notes, "A Capitol Hill staffer suggested that Pelosi...was miffed that Harman had higher visibility in the media."

Also interesting is the contrasting roads to the top these two powerful women have taken (Pelosi's from an old-line political family in Baltimore, while Harman is a gender maverick in the legal field, being an early Harvard Law School graduate).

I'm interested in how things turn out, in the current flap and down the road. I've been telling my classes that the Democrats have huge opportunities heading into the 2008 campaign for the White House, but the party needs to be very careful not to blow their moment of majority power.
Pelosi's already shown she has the propensity for poor decision making. This may be welcomed news for the GOP, although I'm fascinated by the party's prospects should Pelosi and company demonstrate real leadership capabilities over the next couple of years.

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