Pelosi says thanks but no thanks to Hastings

Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday rejected a bid by a lawmaker earlier ousted as a federal judge on corruption charges to head a congressional panel that helps protect America’s security.

Pelosi, preparing her party to take control of the House from President George W. Bush’s Republicans when the 110th U.S. Congress convenes on January 4, told Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, of her decision during a closed-door meeting.

"I advised him that I would select someone else as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee," Pelosi said.

Aides said Pelosi has yet to pick anyone else for the job.

Pelosi added that Hastings, now the second ranking Democrat on the committee, "has served our country well and I have full confidence that he will continue to do so."

Last week, Hastings, elected without opposition this month to an eighth term in Congress, made a public plea for the chairmanship. He argued that despite being removed by Congress as a federal judge in 1989, he did nothing wrong and was cleared by a court of corruption charges.

In rejecting Hastings as chairman, Pelosi avoided what would have been another round of heavy criticism before she even takes the gavel as speaker.

The possibility of a Hastings chairmanship had drawn fire, particularly from conservative commentators. They noted Pelosi, in helping Democrats win control of Congress in the November 7 elections, vowed to clean up how the scandal-rocked House does business.

Earlier this month, House Democrats defied Pelosi and elected Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland as their majority leader over Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a leading opponent of the Iraq war who has had ethics problems of his own.

In 1981, Hastings, appointed to the federal bench in Florida by Democratic President Jimmy Carter, was accused of soliciting a $150,000 bribe in return for a light sentence for two men convicted of racketeering.

A jury cleared Hastings, but a panel of judges urged he be impeached by the House, which did so in 1988. A year later, the Senate convicted Hastings and removed him from the bench. In 1992, he was elected to Congress.

Hastings, in a statement, thanked those who supported him for the committee chairmanship, including fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Hastings also had a message for critics: "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."

"I will be seeking better and bigger opportunities in a Democratic Congress."

Among those seen as potential picks for the committee chairmanship by Pelosi are: Democratic Reps. Silvestre Reyes of Texas and Rush Holt of New Jersey, both members of the Intelligence Committee, and Norman Dicks of Washington state, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee.

As speaker, Pelosi will decide who in her party serves on the Intelligence Committee that helps oversee federal efforts to protect the United States.

Pelosi also picks the committee chair and there have been indications she will not select Rep. Jane Harman, a fellow Californian who now serves as the panel’s top Democrat. They have had a strained relationship.

© Reuters 2006