As I’ve noted before (here and here), confirmation hearings for James Clapper have gotten bogged down in a dispute between the Administration and both houses of Congress over whether Congress should have the tools to exercise real oversight of intelligence functions.
Right now, Nancy Pelosi is holding out for both extended notification to the Intelligence Committees and GAO audit power over intelligence community functions. But, in spite of earlier claims that she would not hold a confirmation hearing for Clapper until the intelligence authorization passed, DiFi now appears to be softening that stance. She told Chris Wallace yesterday that she will move forward with confirmation hearings provided that Obama chat to Pelosi about her intelligence related concerns (starting at 14:07).
Chris Wallace: One of your other hats that you wear is Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee–Director of National Intelligence Blair has been fired. The Acting Director Gompert is resigning. Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats are deadlocked over the intel reform bill and the whole question of Congressional oversight of spy agencies. How quickly are you going to get this resolved and how quickly are you going to confirm so that we have a Director of National intelligence?
Feinstein: Well the process has begun, he has received the questions. On Friday–
Wallace: This is General Clapper?
Feinstein: Yes, General Clapper. Friday I learned the questions have been answered. They were at the White House. We would expect to receive them this week. We can move. I have requested that the President call the Speaker and try to move our Intelligence bill. the reason the Speaker has a problem with it is because we removed two things which the White House found to be veto-able. One was an extension of notification on certain very sensitive matters to all Members rather than the Gang of Eight. The second was Government Accountability Office, we call it the GAO, oversight which was anathema to the White House. We took that out. The bill passed the Senate, our committee, and the Senate unanimously. We have conferenced it, we’ve pre-conferenced it, with the House Committee. We believe we are in agreement, we’re ready to move. If the Speaker will allow them to go to conference then we can move the bill–
Chris Wallace: But very quickly, will you hold up confirmation hearings for Clapper until you get resolution on the intel report?
Feinstein: Well, I have asked that the President would please talk to the Speaker. If he does that, I will move ahead.
Now, to be fair, Obama’s threatening a recess appointment for Clapper in any case. And–as Wallace pointed out–the resignation of Acting Director of National Intelligence David Gompert and the planned retirement of his possible replacement has ratcheted up pressure to get a permanent replacement in (I’ll point out once again that there seems to be a double standard between the treatment of ODNI and OLC). So the choice is likely between a recess appointment with no intelligence reform and a confirmation hearing with intelligence reform (Clapper’s approval is not assured).
But Pelosi’s making a stand to fix two of the problems that the Bush Administration exploited–and which the Obama Administration, particularly given their veto threat, may plan to exploit as well. DiFi appears to be saying that the principle of real Congressional oversight is worth nothing more than a conversation with the President.