Editorial: Pelosi need not stumble again

By now, we all know San Francisco’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the designated speaker of the House of Representatives, “stumbled” (the most oft-used word) when her colleagues voted against her choice, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, for majority leader. Perhaps. But the less controversial Maryland congressman, Steny Hoyer, may prove a blessing to her leadership.

Likewise, she averted another blow to her credibility Tuesday by ditching her choice to chair the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Against advice from all directions, she had been headstrong in her determination to name Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings to the sensitive position, passing over Los Angeles County’s Rep. Jane Harman. As ranking minority member of the committee, Harman by rights should assume the chair when the Democrats officially become the majority.

Pelosi’s stubbornness was unfathomable — except as a way to curry favor with the Congressional Black Caucus, which adamantly supported Hastings. To her credit, she now sees fit to rise to higher considerations. Hastings, of course, carries the dishonor of being an impeached federal judge, removed by a Democratic Congress when he was charged with soliciting a bribe.

Hastings was charged in 1981 and later acquitted, but the House, still looking at compelling perjury and conspiracy charges, impeached him. The Senate threw him off the bench in 1989.

Disgraced, Hastings convinced voters to send him to Congress, where he gets to turn up the sides of his mouth at colleagues whose own corruptibility may be at issue. Pelosi had pledged to cleanse Capitol Hill of corruption, but putting so tarnished a figure in charge of the intelligence committee inspired little confidence in her sincerity.

So what are Harman’s sins? Pelosi has been disappointed in Harman’s inability to politicize the PSCI. Harman was expected by anti-war Democrats to criticize the Bush administration more fiercely, but she took national security seriously, not as a partisan opportunity. Pelosi may yet find a third choice, her continued feuding with Harman regrettably looking schoolgirlish.

However it looks, at least Pelosi wisely dispatched the Hastings controversy quickly — not only before it could set back her ethics reforms, but before it could compromise national security. We earnestly want Nancy Pelosi to succeed in establishing that “new direction,” one driven by good will and the American values of peace and freedom. Her greatness can come if she heeds lessons from our 16th president.

Much of Abraham Lincoln’s genius was in assigning his most treacherous foes to his inner circle, including Cabinet members who thought they were better prepared for the presidency than the Illinois backwoodsman himself. The story is well told in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” a book to teach that largeness of spirit essential to leadership.

The incoming speaker, reading it, should bury the hatchet with Rep. Harman. Quickly.

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