The first time I met Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., in 1984, she announced that she was the new counsel to the Democratic Platform Committee and henceforth would be advising its chairwoman, Geraldine Ferraro, and since she was older and more experienced than I was, she wasn’t looking for direction from me, even if I had put the whole thing together.
Sort of like a truck going 90 miles an hour—and she proceeded to tell Geri exactly the opposite of what I’d agreed to for the first vote with my friends on the Mondale campaign, who controlled a majority of the delegates. I explained the problem to the late Paul Tully, one of the greats in politics, Mondale’s representative, who ambled over to Geri and said it would be a good idea if she listened to me.
Jane insisted. Geri ruled. The chair promptly got overruled. From then on, I told Jane what to tell Geri, and we got along just fine, and have ever since.
Clearly, Nancy and Jane never worked it out.
But that is still no reason to appoint Alcee Hastings to chair the Intelligence Committee, and effectively sacrifice the corruption issue before you’ve begun.
That was the conclusion at my Thanksgiving table, where virtually everyone was friends or fans of Nancy Pelosi, the incoming Speaker, and Jane Harman, who should be the incoming chair of Intelligence, were it not for what everyone seems to concede is a personal problem between the two women.
Now, we all know that when two men hate each other, what do we say? Do we walk around looking for animals to compare their disagreement to?
Do we say these two are caught in a dog fight, and belittle them for it?
The fact is that the fight between Pelosi and Harman reflects badly on Pelosi herself. She is inevitably one of the “cats” in the catfight. It hardly elevates her as a leader to be thought of as a petty woman counting and comparing her Sunday television appearances with the other prominent woman in the delegation.
After all, she is about to be in the line of succession for the presidency. If she is still worried about having other women in the room, then the women who are supporting her have reason to worry about her.
There is also, of course, the question of Harman herself. Yes, she is aggressive, as I found out, and everyone has. But she is also smart, tough and realistic, exactly the sort of person Democrats need to put out front— and yes, a woman in a world in which they are few and far between.
Since Pelosi is not going outside the system to appoint women, the least you might expect is that she would appoint the women who are rightfully in line according to the traditional seniority system.
But perhaps most important, there is the question of corruption and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.. Corruption was the number two issue mentioned by voters as a reason for not returning the Republicans to control of Congress. Democrats have an opportunity to do something significant about ethics reform. It doesn’t cost money. Why blow it before you start?
When you go back and reread the history on Hastings—who, prior to his election to Congress, was impeached and removed from office as a U.S. District Court judge— it just doesn’t sit well. The vote to impeach him in 1988 was 413-4, with not a single member of the House standing to defend him. While he had been acquitted of bribery charges at trial, a post-trial investigation by the U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that he lied at his trial and faked evidence, and he had in fact plotted with a lawyer to take a payoff for reducing the sentence of a supposed racketeer.
In his Senate trial, John Conyers, a leading black liberal, was one of the prosecutors.
He said: “We argue that he must be removed from office so that he does not teach others that justice may be sold." In 1989, he was convicted by the Senate and removed from the bench.
Is this who Pelosi is going to pass over Jane Harman to put in charge of the Intelligence Committee?
The fact is that whatever rivalry Pelosi and Harman have had over the years is over. Nancy won. She can afford to act like a winner, and appoint Jane. Alcee Hastings is more of a threat to her than Jane.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.