Jane Harman Leaving Congress for Wilson Center Presidency

Rep. Jane Harman is leaving Congress to become president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Being in the minority is much less fun than being in the majority, Exhibit MXLV:

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is likely to resign from Congress to succeed Lee H. Hamilton as president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a close friend of Harman’s told POLITICO. The nine-term intelligence expert notified House officials of the negotiations in writing on Monday.

The final decision is to be made by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s board on Tuesday. The center, established by Congress, is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Harman has represented her Los Angeles County district in the House beginning in 1993.

She telephoned a series of colleagues on Monday morning to let them know, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Harman was preparing to send a letter to her constituents explaining her negotiations to join the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Harman’s decision could represent, in part, the frustrations of an ambitious, accomplished Democrat who is suddenly back in the minority.

The friend said: “It’s not that she wants to leave Congress. It’s more about seeing the Woodrow Wilson Center as the preeminent place for seeking bipartisan solutions. It’s a classy, well-funded operation. She just sees is as a great challenge and a great opportunity. She kept getting more and more excited about it.”

Harman’s negotiations for the post were handled by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett.

Harman is the ranking member on the Homeland Security’s intelligence subcommittee. When Democrats held the House majority, she was in line to be chairman of the House intelligence committee but was denied the post by her fellow Californian, then-Speaker Pelosi.

The Wilson Center is a quite influential think tank and Harman’s centrist worldview is a perfect fit.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. wr says:

    I’m no fan of Harmon, but I find this objectionable in the same way I do Palin’s quitting her job. Harman was just reelected in November — if she was so unhappy in Congress, she should have chosen not to run again.

    A public office isn’t just a neat job. It’s a commitment. Leaving to move to a higher position in government I’ve never had a problem with — you’re still serving the public. But quitting because there’s some shiny object out there that’s more appealing — appalling.

  2. James Joyner says:

    wr: I tend to agree but don’t in this particular case.

    When, for example, Newt Gingrich just up and quit I thought it was bizarre if not outrageous. Similarly, the numerous cases when someone quits for a big media or lobbying gig.

    But this is a different thing. It’s a rare opportunity — presidencies of major brand think tanks don’t come open every day — and the Wilson Center is actually affiliated with the Smithsonian. I consider it tantamount to leaving for a post in the administration.

  3. wr says:

    I do see your point — and again, won’t mourn the ceremonial screen door hitting Harman’s ass on the way out — but now California, which is in a severe budget crisis, has to shell out for a special election.

    Maybe I’d feel more charitable towards her if she’d fork over some of her (and her husband’s) money to defray the costs. I’m sure she’s doing better than the state right now.