Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi yesterday named a former Border Patrol agent to lead the powerful House intelligence panel, sidestepping two more senior choices and ending an internal party struggle over the post.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat who has served a decade in the House, will take over the committee in January as his party prepares to step up scrutiny of the Bush administration on a range of issues, including intelligence gathering.
“When tough questions are required, whether they relate to intelligence shortcomings before the 9/11 attacks or the war in Iraq, or to the quality on intelligence on Iran or North Korea, he does not hesitate to ask them,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, who praised Mr. Reyes’ “impeccable national security credentials.”
The decision had been a tough test for the speaker-elect because the top two Democrats currently on the panel — Reps. Jane Harman of California and Alcee L. Hastings of Florida — also had been vying for the post.
Mrs. Pelosi was widely expected to skip over Mrs. Harman, since the two reportedly have political differences. That left Mr. Hastings, who was backed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus but who was tainted by his impeachment and removal as a federal judge in 1989.
This week, Mrs. Pelosi announced she wouldn’t choose Mr. Hastings — a wise move some said, especially if Democrats want access to more intelligence information.
“Pelosi has dodged a bullet here,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute. “The intelligence people I talked to were saying they were going to pull the wagons tight around them if it were Hastings.”
Known as “Silver” to his friends, Mr. Reyes will be the first Hispanic chairman of the committee. After serving in Vietnam, he spent nearly 27 years with the Border Patrol, rising to sector chief of El Paso and McAllen, Texas, during his tenure.
“It’s a historic moment for the Hispanic community,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group.
Mr. Thompson said Mrs. Harman was clearly the most experienced for the post, but Mr. Reyes is “solid” and “people will be inclined to trust [him] because he has been on the other side of the table” as a border agent.
Mr. Reyes said in an interview last month that he will require more information than Republicans did from the administration regarding their most classified programs, and he’ll also look at the role of intelligence three years after the invasion of Iraq and the state of traditional spy craft, the Associated Press reported.
“We haven’t required or haven’t had the administration give us the details, evaluation or plan of how these classic programs are functioning,” he said.
Mrs. Pelosi noted yesterday that Mr. Reyes’ “appreciation for the dangers inherent in the operation of secret activities in a democracy ensures that he will be a zealous protector of the civil liberties that define us as a nation.”
Yesterday, she praised both Mrs. Harman and Mr. Hastings.
Mrs. Harman “served with distinction” in her four years as the top Democrat on the panel and “worked tirelessly under difficult circumstances” to ensure intelligence agencies had needed resources, direction and leadership. Mr. Hastings “has brought foreign affairs expertise, deep patriotism, and dedication to the work of the committee,” Mrs. Pelosi said.