The congressional antipathy to Leon Panetta’s ascension to CIA director that I reported on yesterday makes the lede of The New York Times’ Panetta story. In addition to incoming Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, The Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Carl Hulse report that outgoing chairman Jay Rockefeller is also a Panetta skeptic. (As my friend Tim Starks at Congressional Quarterly did yesterday afternoon.)
Two things about that. First, according to her statement, Feinstein had her feathers ruffled by Panetta in part because she wasn’t informed about the pick. But of course she wasn’t informed. Hulse and Mazzetti broke news; Obama didn’t announce anything. We can’t really know whether Feinstein would have been informed if Obama had been able to keep to his own timetable, but it stands to reason. But Obama can tamp that concern by credibly saying he would have informed her ahead of an official announcement.
Still — and this is the second thing — Feinstein, like Rockefeller, thinks that the CIA director should be an intelligence professional. (I’m not criticizing them for that, as that’s my personal preference as well.) Feinstein, at least, made her preference clear. That objection is something Obama and Panetta are going to have to overcome: unlike the no-one-told-me argument, it’s a substantive point with policy implications.
Obama has someone who knows what it’s like to face Hill objections when seeking to become CIA director: his adviser Tony Lake, who withdrew his nomination in 1997 after Republicans turned it into a referendum on President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy. If there’s anyone who knows the importance of getting the Senate Intelligence Committee aligned with a nominee ahead of confirmation hearings, it’s Lake. Obama could do worse than dispatching Lake to talk to Feinstein.
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