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Democratic Hispanic Lawmaker to Head US House Intelligence Committee


A Democratic lawmaker and three-decade veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol has been selected to head the committee in the U.S. House of Representatives overseeing U.S. intelligence activities. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes has been a key critic of the Bush administration on such issues as anti-terrorist surveillance, and has pledged to sharply increase oversight of intelligence agencies.

On such controversial matters as border security, and the electronic anti-terrorist eavesdropping program approved by President Bush after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Silvestre Reyes has been soft-spoken as he and other Democrats questioned administration policies.

But when he did raise his voice, at hearings and Democratic news conferences, the former Texas Border Patrol agent and Vietnam veteran, made it perfectly clear where he stood.

As in one news event this past September, Reyes frequently accused President Bush and majority Republicans of trying to ram legislation through Congress without sufficient oversight hearings.

"One of the things that got us into the situation where we are today has been deception, deceiving the American people, deceiving members of Congress, by people in the administration, hyping intelligence. It is vitally important that the Congress act as a check and balance," he said. "We have not done oversight. We have been rubber stamping literally everything that the administration sends up here with little or no oversight."

Strong words from Reyes, who was elected to Congress in 1996 after a 26-year career watching the U.S. border with Mexico.

A former chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, among other roles, and a member of the U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group, Reyes represents a district that includes the city of El Paso.

His selection ended weeks of speculation about who future Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would choose to head the House Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi bypassed Congressman Alcee Hastings, an African-American lawmaker in line for the chairmanship, who faced ethics-related questions because he was impeached as a federal judge before coming to Congress.

She also passed over California Democrat Jane Harman, the outspoken former ranking member on the committee, whose tenure had expired and with whom Pelosi was reported to have had personal differences.

In a written statement, Reyes signaled how he intends to direct the committee's activities, saying it is important, "to ask the tough questions and enact strong policies to keep [Americans] safe while protecting constitutionally-guaranteed rights."

He is also expected to stress bipartisan cooperation with Republicans, who will be in the minority starting in January, an issue he addressed in a recent news conference.

"The White House, the administration, crafts up the changes that they want in order to rectify the situation that they are in because of the secrecy they have employed, and then they expect us to go along," he said. "And when we offer amendments that make it a workable solution, it is categorically rejected. And this by the people that claimed to be bipartisan.

The House Intelligence Committee, more than its counterpart in the Senate, has been marked by feuding between Republicans and Democrats over such issues as leaks of information to the media, which Republicans blamed on Democrats.

Outgoing panel Chairman Peter Hoekstra, who had a good relationship with President Bush, wished Reyes success, pledging Republicans will work "in a bipartisan manner" on strengthening U.S. human intelligence and other matters.

As a key Hispanic lawmaker, Reyes is expected to stress the need for more diversity in the intelligence community.

In selecting him, future Speaker Pelosi also follows through on her pledge to reflect more diversity in key appointments as Democrats take control during the new 110th Congress.

A Pelosi statement said Reyes understands that diversity in background, ethnicity and religion among those in the U.S. intelligence community will help them "succeed against the hardest intelligence targets they will face.

The selection of Reyes may help Democrats solidify existing, and attract additional, support from Hispanic-Americans who will be increasingly important on the road to the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.