Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Texas Democrat Reyes, former Border Patrol agent, to head House intelligence panel

Texas Democrat Reyes, former Border Patrol agent, to head House intelligence panel

Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes becomes next month the first Hispanic congressman to head the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and promised to restore oversight to the nation's spy agencies and the Bush administration.
Reyes, chosen Friday by House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, said from his Texas district on the Mexican border, "For the first time in about six years, there's going to be some checks and balances. ... We will see true oversight, real consequences."
Pelosi's announcement ended weeks of speculation within the party about who would get the crucial position, a question that had created political turmoil for her as she prepared to take her leadership post on Jan. 4.
The California Democrat chose Reyes over two more senior committee Democrats, Jane Harman of California and Alcee Hastings of Florida. Harman's supporters included nearly two dozen more conservative Democrats, known as Blue Dogs. Hastings had the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus. As a Hispanic, Reyes hails from what has become the country's largest minority ethnic group.
The Texan has said he will demand more information on the Bush administration's most classified programs, including the detention of enemy combatants and the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping into domestic communications.
He also plans to focus on the war in Iraq, threats from terrorists, the spread of weapons, ethnic and racial diversity at U.S. intelligence agencies and civil liberties.
Known as "Silver" to friends, Reyes came to Congress after Army service that included 13 months in Vietnam, and then 26 years of work in the U.S. Border Patrol. He won his congressional seat in 1996.
Pelosi said his experience gives him an understanding of the needs of both troops and policymakers. "His appreciation for the dangers inherent in the operation of secret activities in a democracy ensures that he will be a zealous protector of the civil liberties," she said.
In a recent interview, Reyes said Republicans have made a habit of rubber-stamping President George W. Bush's programs. Democrats, he said, must act quickly to show they will dig deeply into the government's actions.
Overseeing the 16 U.S. spy agencies is among the most challenging and thankless tasks in Congress. Given the committee's inherently secret nature, much of the work is done in secret. Few members of Congress have a significant constituency in the spy world, and a presidential commission weighing recent intelligence changes called the agencies "headstrong."
Harman currently is the committee's top Democrat, and her term on the panel expires this year. She could have been reappointed by Pelosi, but the two are said to have differences. In a statement, Harman congratulated Reyes and offered him her "full and enthusiastic support."
As for Hastings, some critics and ethics watchdogs had questioned whether the Florida lawmaker, who was impeached as a federal judge and removed from the bench, was the right person for a post that has access to some of the nation's top secrets.
In a sign that not all hard feelings are gone, a Hastings statement this week announcing he would not get the job closed with: "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."
Pelosi passed over a member of the Black Caucus for a second time. In 2000, she allowed Harman to leapfrog Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia for the intelligence panel's top Democratic slot. By choosing Reyes, she elevated the panel's No. 3 Democrat and gained favor with Hispanic groups.
Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, called Reyes' new assignment "an important breakthrough for the Latino community." Her civil rights group has been seeking more Hispanics in leadership positions.
Nowhere in Congress have relations between Republicans and Democrats been more publicly nasty than on the House Intelligence Committee, which saw partisan spats in October over the release of information about a corrupt Republican congressman and the leak of a high-level intelligence estimate on terrorism.
In an interview last month, Reyes said the situation among committee members "can't get worse. It has gotten as bad as it could."
The current House intelligence chairman, Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra, said committee Republicans will work with the Democrats. "The threats and challenges facing our great nation know no political bounds," he said in a statement congratulating Reyes.
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and CIA Director Michael Hayden both issued statements welcoming Reyes' selection. "His comprehensive understanding of the intelligence community and the challenges it faces, ideally qualifies him for this important chairmanship," Negroponte said.
___
Associated Press writers Suzanne Gamboa in Washington and Alica Caldwell in El Paso, Texas, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-20 14:32 GMT+08:00