The sudden end of Rep. Jane Harman’s House career also concludes one of the most infamous intraparty rivalries in recent Congressional history.
Harman and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both California Democrats, have had a chilly relationship for years, according to several Congressional aides and former staffers.
“It is a long-developed, multifaceted dynamic, and you just cannot lose sight of them being two women who are very wealthy and run in very similar circles,” a former leadership aide explained. “It’s almost set up for a competitive dynamic just given who these two women are.”
Pelosi’s and Harman’s similar backgrounds at first forged a close working relationship, but ultimately it drove a wedge between the two. Both women served on the Intelligence Committee, but Harman took a hawkish approach during her tenure that drew the ire of Pelosi, a Bush administration critic and a loyally liberal Member. The schism spread to rank-and-file levels, where moderates gravitated toward Harman’s approach.
Harman earned the support of Blue Dogs, too, much to the chagrin of Democratic liberals.
Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami insisted his boss “has long valued Congresswoman Harman’s strong expertise in international relations and security matters and her work on behalf of California and that she will serve our nation admirably and with distinction in any capacity.”
Harman, however, may feel differently. The Southern Californian, who is married to wealthy businessman Sidney Harman, sought the support of the state delegation in 1998 when she retired from Congress to run for governor.
At the time, Harman felt Pelosi didn’t do her part to help in the statewide race, which Harman ultimately lost. But it was Pelosi who persuaded Harman to return to Congress after her gubernatorial defeat.
Harman even was able to keep her seniority when she returned to the House in 2001 under an agreement she hatched with then-Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).
But the advantage didn’t last. In 2005, Pelosi decided Harman’s time on the committee had run out under old House rules that limited the chairman and ranking member’s service to two terms..
The rule had been suspended while Republicans held the majority, but once back in power, Pelosi applied it to Harman. That decision forced the Los Angeles-based Democrat off the Intelligence panel that had been at the core of Harman’s national stature.
Harman lobbied Pelosi hard for a waiver and even sent national security experts and top Democratic donors to speak on her behalf, an unprecedented move at the time, but Pelosi refused and Harman lost her seat on the panel.
“Harman went from being a pretty significant player in a very important policy area to becoming just another member,” another Democrat aide recalled of that time period.
Harman’s lobbying effort backfired, hurting more than helping her.
“And the thing about Pelosi is that once you’re on her bad side, you’re there and you don’t get off.”
So in 2007, with Democrats in the majority and the issue of the Iraq War front and center, Harman served on the lower-profile Homeland Security Committee. That same year, Pelosi’s profile soared as she served as the first female Speaker and a prominent voice for the Democratic Party. Harman’s fate was sealed, and according to several aides, she has considered leaving Congress ever since.
“Pelosi did Jane Harman away,” the former Democratic leadership aide said. “She’s not governor, she’s not the ranking or the chairman of Intelligence, she has no platform to do anything. When Pelosi got word that Jane Harman is leaving, she probably had a little smile on her face.”