Pelosi's Next Test

Nov. 16, 2006 — -- With the contentious battle for majority leader behind her, Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi soon faces another: appointing the head of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

The Blue Dog Coalition -- a now-powerful bloc of centrist Democrats in the House -- delivered a letter in support of Rep. Jane Harman of California, a Blue Dog California Democrat and the Intelligence Committee's ranking member.

Pelosi's choice for the Intelligence Committee isn't clear.

Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida is in the running. He's served the committee for seven years and comes with the strong support of the Congressional Black Caucus. Hastings' political baggage -- complete with his impeachment from federal judgeship -- could hinder his chances.

Unlike the leadership battle that took place between Majority Leader-elect Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Pelosi-endorsed Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, the Intelligence Committee decision is Pelosi's choice to make. And whoever gets tapped doesn't need to be confirmed by the party.

The Blue Dog Bite

But in the 110th Congress, the Blue Dog bite could be just as bad as its collective bark: The pack is 44-strong post-election, accounting for about 20 percent of the House's Democratic majority.

"We don't want to be obstructionists, but we don't want to be a rubber stamp," said Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, the Blue Dog Coalition's communications director. "We want to bring the party back to the middle."

And on the issues, the middle is generally how the Blue Dogs describe themselves -- they tend towards social conservatism, but their focus is fiscal, striving for independence from party leadership.

Where the Blue Dogs Come From

The Blue Dog Coalition was formed 12 years ago during the 104th Congress, as a means for conservative members of the Democratic party to have a unified voice and a vote of power.

The name stems from early in the caucus' history, back when the Blue Dogs were just puppies. Members used to meet in the offices of former Reps. Bill Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, both of Louisiana. The representatives featured the artwork of George Rodrigue in their offices, a Cajun painter well-known for his paintings of blue dogs.

Others maintain that the moniker implies a moderate voice choked blue by party extremists.

A Power Bloc

The Blue Dogs will be difficult to choke come January. In a Congress where the difference between red and blue is under 40 seats, their bloc promises to hold tremendous clout.

Leadership on both sides of the aisle have made friendly overtures to the Blue Dogs since election day, a sign of the caucus' steadily growing power.

Ross describes the message voters sent Washington on election night as a clear one.

"The majority of the American people are in the middle, in the center, which is where the Blue Dogs are," Ross said.