BY MIKE ALLEN & RICHARD E. COHEN
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) will resign from Congress to succeed former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton as president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, ending a two-decade career in which Harman became one of the leading centrist voices in the Democratic Party on intelligence and national security.
The nine-term lawmaker notified House officials of the negotiations in writing on Monday, and the final decision is to be made by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s board on Tuesday. The center, established by Congress, is part of the Smithsonian Institution.
Harman has represented her Los Angeles County district in the House since 1993, and Democrats likely would retain her district in a special election, as it is considered a safe seat for the party. But like other parts of the Los Angeles area, it could be significantly revamped by redistricting changes in next year’s election, including pressure to create additional Latino districts.
Harman telephoned a series of colleagues on Monday morning to let them know of her decision, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Harman was preparing to send a letter to her constituents explaining her negotiations to join the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Harman’s decision could represent, in part, the frustrations of an ambitious, accomplished Democrat who is suddenly back in the minority.
A Jane Harman friend said: “It’s not that she wants to leave Congress. It’s more about seeing the Woodrow Wilson Center as the preeminent place for seeking bipartisan solutions. It’s a classy, well-funded operation. She just sees is as a great challenge and a great opportunity. She kept getting more and more excited about it.”
Harman’s negotiations for the post were handled by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett.
Harman is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security’s intelligence subcommittee. When Democrats held the House majority, she was in line to be chairman of the House intelligence committee but was denied the post by her fellow Californian, then-Speaker Pelosi.
Like Hamilton—who had chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee—Harman brings an impressive combination of national-security savvy and domestic political experience to a center named for a former Democratic president who operated in that tradition. She also brings useful fundraising experience to the center.
As ranking minority member of the Intelligence Committee from 2003 to 2006, she was influential in winning bipartisan enactment of post-9/11 reforms, including major reorganization of the intelligence community and creation of the Director of National Intelligence.
“She worked very closely” with Hamilton and Tom Kean, who chaired the presidential commission to review the 2001 attacks, said Al Felzenberg, who was spokesman for that panel. “Without her, the reforms would not have passed. She has a tremendous public-service ethos”
But her centrist Democratic credentials caused Harman problems at home, where she faced opposition from the left. In 2006, Marcy Winograd—who had been president of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles—criticized her work on intelligence issues and her support for the war in Iraq. Harman won, 62 percent to 38 percent.
As local liberals continued to voice unhappiness with her record, Harman won a 2010 rematch against Winograd, 59 percent to 41 percent. In addition to redistricting risks, that liberal opposition could have become a factor in a possible primary next year. In a 1998 bid for governor, Harman ran a distant third to Gray Davis, with 12 per cent of the vote. With Pelosi’s encouragement, Harman returned to Congress in 2000 by defeating the Republican who had taken her seat.
Despite occasional conflicts with Pelosi and liberal Democrats in the House, Harman remained active on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where she worked on climate-change issues. Her House departure would open a much-sought seat on that panel, where several Democrats were forced to step down after Republicans won House control last November.
Her husband, industrialist Sidney Harman, recently completed deals to buy Newsweek and combine it with The Daily Beast.