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Reyes named chairman of the House Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON—House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi on Friday named Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, ending an internal Democratic spat over who'd head the high-profile panel.

"Congressman Silvestre Reyes has impeccable national security credentials," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. Reyes, a Vietnam War veteran, spent more than 26 years as a Border Patrol agent, rising to the position of sector chief in El Paso before running for Congress in 1996.

"When tough questions are required, whether they relate to intelligence shortcomings before the 9/11 attacks or the war in Iraq, or to the quality on intelligence on Iran or North Korea, he does not hesitate to ask them," she said. The Texan, who voted against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has served on the Intelligence Committee for nearly six years.

Reyes, whose even-tempered demeanor belies a rock-hard resolve, said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, "I'll be able to set a new course for the committee that will play a role in ultimately making this country safer."

Asked what he planned to do differently, Reyes said, "In a word: oversight."

Reyes said the panel had been "rubberstamping anything and everything the administration wants." Reyes said he was eager to read the policy recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, which are due Wednesday.

Reyes said his short-term goals were to examine the National Security Agency's controversial monitoring of U.S. calls without judicial warrants; U.S. policies on the detention of enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and other areas; and the harsh interrogation techniques used by U.S. forces.

"Long-term," he said, "we need to focus on emerging threats" from such counties as North Korea, Iran and the Balkans.

John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, congratulated Reyes and said he looked forward to working with him and the committee.

"I look forward to working with Congressman Reyes as he assumes his leadership of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence," Negroponte said in a statement. "Congressman Reyes' lengthy service on the Intelligence Committee, and his comprehensive understanding of the Intelligence Community and the challenges it faces, ideally qualifies him for this important chairmanship."

Reyes, 62, emerged as the frontrunner to be chairman of the Intelligence Committee after Pelosi made it clear that the ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman of California, wouldn't be named. Pelosi and Harman have a frosty personal relationship, and Pelosi faulted Harman for failing early on to challenge the Bush administration on intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Pelosi decided earlier this week that another contender, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, had too much ethical baggage after Congress removed him from a federal judgeship in the late 1980s for allegedly taking a bribe. Pelosi has made ethics reform her defining issue as she prepares to lead the House, and critics questioned how she could elevate Hastings and champion ethics at the same time.

Although both Harman and Hastings called Reyes Friday to congratulate him, and Pelosi acknowledged their contributions to the committee, the awkward situation hurt the speaker-designate's image, said a political analyst.

"She allowed the contentiousness between her and Harman to go on too long," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, of the University of Southern California. "It was not helpful to Pelosi's image as a strong leader."

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, a close friend of Reyes, said, "I'm gratified by the speaker's selection. Our country will be well-served by someone of Reyes' character."

"Silver," as the silver-haired El Pasoan is known, will be the only Hispanic to chair a major committee in the 110th Congress, which begins in January. He'll have to give up the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said a top Democratic aide.

As chair of the Intelligence Committee, Reyes will have influence over many defense programs and more than $40 billion in so-called black, or secret, intelligence programs across 15 agencies.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, applauded Pelosi's choice.

"Silvestre Reyes is a man of great integrity and a good choice for this position," she said in a statement. "I spoke with him today and told him how pleased I am with his appointment to this critical post. The unique background and experience in law enforcement he brings to the committee will provide a valuable perspective."

Reyes was first elected to Congress in 1996, and is the first Hispanic American to represent El Paso, a border city that's 76 percent Hispanic.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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