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Hastings' past scuttles intelligence chairmanship

Florida Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, a prominent black politician with a troubled past, was turned down as chairman of the House committee that oversees the nation's spy apparatus.

At a meeting Tuesday afternoon, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Hastings she would choose someone else to lead the Intelligence Committee.

Hastings, 70, a seven-term representative from the Fort Lauderdale area, is the senior Democrat on the committee, and he sought the job. But many House Democrats said his impeachment as a federal judge 17 years ago made him an impossible choice, both politically and pragmatically.

The opposition against Hastings had upset some in the Congressional Black Caucus, and the spat threatened to split Democrats as they prepare to take control of Congress in January.

But Hastings on Tuesday pledged to work with Pelosi and whoever is chosen as the new chairman. He currently serves on the Rules Committee, which decides how bills are debated.

"Our national security is far more important than my professional security," Hastings said in a statement. "I will be seeking better and bigger opportunities in a Democratic Congress.

"There is much to be accomplished and little time to reset this nation's economic and spiritual compass," he said. "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."

Pelosi said she made the decision after extensive consultations with Hastings. Most committee chairmen are chosen by a cadre of House leaders, based loosely on seniority. But the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is structured differently, and the decision is solely Pelosi's. She did not suggest whom she might choose.

The ranking Democrat on the committee now is Rep. Jane Harman, a moderate from California, but she and Pelosi share an animosity toward one another that makes her promotion unlikely.

Other potential chairmen include Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, the No. 3 Democrat on the committee, and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., another black caucus member who was passed over as ranking member in 2003.

Hastings had the backing of former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a past Senate intelligence chairman.

But Hastings was dogged by his impeachment as a federal judge in 1989 following allegations he had solicited bribes - despite having been acquitted at trial. Last week, Hastings sent colleagues a letter contending the decision to impeach him was made without all the facts.

House members and aides said Hastings' conciliatory tone likely averted a showdown between Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus.

"For anybody to be more upset than Alcee Hastings probably won't get as far as they would have gotten had he been very upset and shooting back," said Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, a member of the black caucus. "I wouldn't say people are just going to move on, but he has set the tone for the response."

Wes Allison can be reached at (202) 463-0577 or allison@sptimes.com.

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