If Pelosi bumps Harman, the next in line is Hastings. He is not a security threat in the sense that he will start selling secrets to the Russians, but the symbolism of his running an extremely sensitive congressional committee is, at the very least, gross. Liberal editorial boards, the foreign-policy establishment and the moderate Blue Dog Democrats have all endorsed Harman. Pelosi still might feel compelled to choose Hastings because of his important countervailing endorsement -- from the Congressional Black Caucus.
The CBC would consider it a slight for Hastings not to get the job, but what doesn't the CBC consider a slight? As a compromise, she might pick a Hispanic congressman, thus pleasing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Why didn't the Democrats tell us a crucial plank of their national-security agenda would be ethnic bean counting on the intelligence committee?
The Harman-Hastings flap is part of The Great Slackening. That is what happens to a reform party sooner or later after it takes control of Congress. In this case, it looks like sooner. Pelosi had barely uttered her pledge to conduct the most ethical Congress ever, before endorsing the Abscam-tainted, earmark-greedy John Murtha for majority leader. Now she might choose an impeached federal judge as her personal pick to run the intelligence committee.
It is still early, and all of this might be forgotten by January. But first impressions can be lasting. Ned Lamont slayed incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut in August, and had all but lost the general election race a few days later when he appeared too left wing and unserious to voters. If Pelosi picks Hastings, she will be a step closer to stamping her Democrats with the mark of Lamont.
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