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Goss Pushes Hard

Victory Likely, With Acrimony

With the Senate Intelligence Committee set to begin consideration today on the high-profile nomination of Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) to head the CIA, insiders in both parties said Goss and the White House are waging an aggressive, behind-the-scenes campaign to win Senate approval for the veteran lawmaker.

To head off any opposition, Goss has been meeting quietly with Senators on both sides of the aisle, including Democrats on Intelligence, to lobby them on his nomination. The Florida Republican was scheduled to meet with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) Monday night, as well as with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Both Rockefeller and Durbin have publicly criticized Goss’ nomination.

Goss is also set to meet with Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) today and Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the following day. Senior GOP aides estimate that Goss will have met with at least half of the Senate by the time his nomination reaches the floor.

While the White House and Senate Republican leaders don’t expect a unanimous vote for Goss, several senior Republicans aides predict that Goss will receive at least 75 votes.

“I don’t expect there to be any problem with this nomination,” said a top Senate Republican staffer. “Goss is superbly qualified to be CIA director. [Goss] will go through with a very, very solid majority of Senators from both parties.”

But the nomination could provide an opening for Democrats to rail against President Bush’s Iraq policy, especially the handling and use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and the failures by U.S. intelligence in the days and months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“It’s carte blanche to review the state of our intelligence services and how this intelligence is used or manipulated by the administration,” said one Senate Democratic leadership source.

Some Democrats also want to explore Goss’ role in the White House campaign to prevent the creation of a 9/11 commission.

In October 2001, Goss offered a substitute amendment to a 9/11 commission proposal by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is now the House Minority Leader. Goss’ amendment, which was focused more on general security threats rather than on the 9/11 attacks per se, was adopted by the House but was eventually dropped in talks with the Senate.

One year later, Goss, reportedly at the urging of Vice President Cheney, again sought to block the creation of a 9/11 commission. By that time, however, there was too much support on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers for critics of the idea to overcome.

Democrats also will portray Goss as a partisan politician who might be incapable of providing independent analysis as CIA director, especially if the agency’s findings differ with positions espoused by Bush or the GOP Congressional leadership. Some Senate Democrats claim that Goss, as a former CIA agent, is too close to the agency to implement intelligence reforms that many in Congress want to see implemented. Rockefeller has openly questioned Goss’ ability to be independent of the White House, and has characterized his nomination as “a mistake.”

As an example, Democrats point to a floor speech by Goss last June in which he ripped Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential nominee, for backing efforts to cut the CIA’s budget during the 1990s. Democratic insiders complain that Goss wanted to cut the agency’s budget after the Cold War ended, as well.

“This is a partisan guy who is entirely wrong for this job,” said another Senate Democratic aide. “We want to make sure that people know his track record.”

It’s unclear at this point who will lead the charge against Goss, and how far Goss’ Democratic opponents are prepared to go in attacking the Florida Republican during next week’s floor debate. The debate is expected to last several days.

Daschle, who’s in the midst of a tough re-election battle against former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), appears unwilling to provide any political ammunition to his opponent by criticizing Goss. That might leave Durbin or Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) to take the lead role in the anti-Goss effort, Democratic and GOP aides said.

Despite the complaints, however, Goss retains significant support among Senate Democrats. Florida’s two Democratic Senators, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, will escort Goss when he appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, and both have backed his selection as the 16th head of the CIA.

The 65-year-old Goss was first elected to the House in 1988 and has served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for the past eight years.

He spent a decade in the CIA before entering politics in the early 1970s, and was slated to retire at the end of this year before being nominated by Bush for the CIA post. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has already named Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) to replace Goss as the Intelligence chairman.