WASHINGTON – Little doubt remains that Florida Republican Rep. Porter Goss (search) has the votes in the Senate to be confirmed as the new director of the CIA, but three Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee held Goss' feet to the fire Tuesday, questioning his past partisanship.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search), D-W.Va., the ranking Democrat on the panel, brought two thick binders of statements, which he held up to the crowd and described as a collection of quotes Goss has made in the past that suggest he is too political a candidate.
"This is 10 years of statements, which are partisan — I think this is honest questioning, Porter Goss, I really do," Rockefeller said. "How does one simply become a different person?"
Goss, who had returned for a second round of questioning, admitted that he often has supported his party's position.
"But on the things that count, the things that are not just the interplay between the two agendas of the two parties, there's only one flag in the room ... and we all know that. National security is one of those areas," said the former CIA officer.
Even before President Bush (search) nominated Goss in August, Democrats complained that Goss would not be independent enough to lead the U.S. intelligence community.
Rockefeller was joined by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in pressing Goss to explain how he plans to separate his past life as a congressman from a new role as CIA director. Goss would be only the second congressman, behind George H.W. Bush, to head the spy agency.
The three asked if Goss planned to clear up misstatements by Bush administration policy-makers about mistaken intelligence. Democrats have repeatedly said officials' statements on prewar intelligence on Iraq turned out to be wrong, including Vice President Cheney's statement that a meeting between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta (search) and Iraqi intelligence in Prague was "pretty well confirmed."
Goss said if misunderstandings arise, he would be quick to point them out. But he didn't say he would necessarily correct the public record.
"I would certainly judge the situation at the time," he said. "I am not going to let the credibility of our intelligence community be in any way affected by the battles that swirl around on the question of the use of intelligence."
Later, he added, "Sometimes private words work."
The whole exchange was simply too much to bear for the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who has a reputation for speaking his mind in no uncertain terms.
"If people don't understand that this is a partisan outfit in the Congress, they're either very naive or very disingenuous or have their head lodged firmly where there is no sun or light," Roberts said. "I think sometimes you have to take a man at his word."
Despite the plea, for another 90 minutes Democrats hammered Goss, who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for the last eight of his 16 years in Congress. Goss stepped down in August after being nominated and has been tight-lipped about his opinions since then.
Goss pledged that he would strive to ensure that in the future intelligence is never misused or overstated, no matter who misuses or overstates it. He also pledged that Congress would continue to maintain oversight despite a provision in the White House's draft intelligence-reform legislation that Wyden interpreted as an effort to give the president an exemption from the law that requires Congress be kept "fully and currently informed," especially about covert intelligence operations.
Goss ended the hearing with one statement designed to allay concerns about his past political statements.
"My judgment's not perfect. I've been wrong, and certainly I regret sometimes being sucked into those things. I do understand the need to get out of the debate," he said.
The Senate panel is expected to approve the nomination on Tuesday, despite some expected opposition among Democrats.
A committee vote behind closed doors is scheduled for Tuesday. If the panel approves Goss, the Republican-led Senate could take up the nomination as early as Wednesday.
FOX News' Brian Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.