Speaker Nancy Pelosi is engaged in the fight of her career. The embattled speaker has resorted to attacking the credibility of the CIA over the extent of their disclosure of enhanced interrogation tactics, even as her own credibility melts away. The truth of the matter, though, is that the situation in which Mrs. Pelosi finds herself is one of her own making, and just the latest in a series of irresponsible political moves.
In 2006, after the Democrats dramatically swept into power, California Rep. Jane Harman stood poised to take the chairmanship of United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. As ranking member, it was expected that she would succeed Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican. To everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Pelosi chose to pass over Mrs. Harman and hand the powerful position to Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat, to the chairmanship that year. Mr. Reyes’ ascension over the more senior Mrs. Harman raised some questions.
When interviewed in December of 2006 by Congressional Quarterly, Mr. Reyes was asked what most would consider a basic question regarding the religious affiliation of al Qaeda. Mr. Reyes flubbed the answer, ignorantly claiming al Qaeda was comprised of both Shi’ite and Sunni members but “Predominantly - probably Shi’ite.”
In the same interview, he failed to recognize the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah by name. Such basic questions should have solicited swift, correct answers from the House of Representatives chief of intelligence. Instead, Mr. Reyes embarrassed both himself and his political patron, Mrs. Pelosi.
Mr. Reyes wasn’t Mrs. Pelosi’s first choice for chairman. Mrs. Pelosi first chose Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, to fill the position. However, she passed on Mr. Hastings, much to the dismay of the Congressional Black Caucus, after his removal from the federal bench was judged to be a political liability. Only then did she choose Mr. Reyes in order to gain favor with Hispanic groups.
In 2003, Mrs. Harman was the sole member of the House to write a formal letter of protest to the White House when she learned of the use of enhanced interrogation tactics in a briefing Pelosi staffer Michael Sheehy confirmed he attended. Mrs. Pelosi has since hitched herself to Mrs. Harman’s wagon on the issue, claiming she agreed with her conclusions about the use of waterboarding despite having not officially endorsed the letter.
Recently, during a press conference punctuated by stuttering and uncomfortable pauses, Mrs. Pelosi commented on her failure to join Mrs. Harman’s protest saying Mrs. Harman was “the appropriate member to send the letter,” seeing as she was then the ranking committee member.
With this ringing endorsement of Mrs. Harmon’s judgment in mind, why would Mrs. Pelosi endorse someone as dangerously underqualified as Mr. Reyes, passing over a more senior and qualified representative not once, but twice?
The answer is simple: Mrs. Pelosi chose to use the chair for petty and cynical political purposes, wielding her power to punish political rivals and reward her allies.
Mrs. Pelosi recently admitted to placing politics over matters of national security when she admitted she was told about waterboarding but did not object to it in February 2003 because she was too busy with her mission to “change the majority in Congress and to change - to fight to have a new president.”
In addition to using the House Intelligence Committee chairmanship as a political football, Mrs. Pelosi chose to ignore recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission in order to give her party a partisan edge over Republicans.
When the commission delivered its report in 2004, one of its recommendations to Congress was that “the majority party’s representation [on the House Intelligence Committee] should never exceed the minority’s representation by more than one.” This recommendation was vital to keeping politics out of a committee that was essential to national security. Mrs. Pelosi ignored it, opting instead to pack the committee by a margin of 13-8 with Democrats. This was a flagrant breaking of Mrs. Pelosi’s own “Six for ‘06” promise to carry out the commission’s recommendations, and just another instance of politics trumping pragmatism.
Mrs. Pelosi now finds herself ensnared in her own web of lies and emphatic denials, forcing Democrats to waste valuable political capital on the speaker’s less and less plausible excuses for inaction on enhanced interrogations tactics. This represents the final verdict on eight years of the politicization of national security. Her credibility problems now threaten to tear her party apart as heavyweights like House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, distance themselves from the slow-motion train wreck she is becoming.
The cynical use of intelligence and security issues has been a scary behavior Mrs. Pelosi has serially engaged in, and it puts all Americans at risk. Such cavalier disregard for the safety of the American people should give Democrats reason to question the prudence of investing Mrs. Pelosi with the power of the House speaker.