Republican Rep. Mike Rogers has pulled off a rare feat in a bitterly divided Congress — a working, productive relationship with Democrats in overseeing the nation's 16 spy agencies.
The question now is whether the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee sticks around the House or fulfills GOP hopes and launches a bid for the U.S. Senate seat from Michigan.
"I've served on this committee since 2004. I saw the worst partisanship creep into what should be a neutral zone in national security space," Rogers said in a recent interview. "I have a great opportunity as being appointed chairman to do something about it. A lot of people talk about it. You have to work hard at it. It's not something that just happens."
The camaraderie of the four leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence panels — Rogers, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., and Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. — is so unusual that they even traveled together recently on a four-country, five-day Mideast trip.
What they got was a better understanding of the unfulfilled promises of the Arab Spring — from Egypt, where the West wonders about economic stability and human rights under Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, to Jordan, which is grappling with a growing refugee crisis from the two-year civil war in Syria. There were stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, and plenty of discussions about strategy for getting a cybersecurity bill through Congress.
"A positive leader, which we need" is how Feinstein describes Rogers, her House counterpart. "We don't need more negative."
Six-term Democratic Sen. Carl Levin's announcement that he won't run for re-election opens the Senate seat in Michigan, a Democratic-leaning state that backed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in the last nonpresidential election year in 2010.
Rogers, a seven-term House member, said he is weighing a Senate run but has made no decision. He said he has been preoccupied "as you might imagine, with the challenges of the day, with Boston happening, this Syria crisis seems to be careening out of control here."
"That's been my priority and taking care of my district back home. It has been a full-time-plus job," Rogers said. "I've been doing my due diligence. I don't feel like I have to make a decision right now, it's a long time out, so I'm doing everything a candidate should do to consider if that's the right place. I need to consider my role as chairman of the Intelligence Committee and what impact that allows me to have versus running and being a member of the U.S. Senate. Does that increase my impact?"
The bright, shiny prize of a Senate seat seems to have lost some of its luster this election cycle, especially for members of the House. In recent weeks, House Republicans and Democrats in Iowa, Georgia and Minnesota have said "no thanks" to Senate bids, content to stick with their seats and skip races that demand raising tens of millions of dollars.
The frequent stalemates in the Senate, the possibility of trading the political majority for the minority and the loss of a powerful chairmanship are factors for a number of House members considering Senate runs.
Privately, Republicans would like to see Rogers, 49, pursue the Michigan seat. They are keen on his general election chances against the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Gary Peters. Several Republicans are eyeing the seat, including Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican in the mold of libertarians such as Ron and Rand Paul.
Rogers also is on the short list to replace Robert Mueller as FBI director, a nomination by President Barack Obama that likely would sail through the Senate and complicate the political outlook in Michigan. Rogers has the bearing of the FBI agent he was for 5-1/2 years.
On Capitol Hill, Rogers gets high marks from Republicans, Democrats, onetime rivals and former diplomats for his pragmatism and deliberate approach. He changed the tenor of a committee once riven by partisanship, and recently achieved a remarkable 92 Democratic votes for his cybersecurity bill despite a White House veto threat.
Ruppersberger said he and Rogers agreed that the operations of the committee had to change.
"Rogers was a former FBI agent. I was a former investigative prosecutor," Ruppersberger said. "I tease him — all good FBI agents must listen to their prosecutors even if we're in the minority. We trust each other, we work together, we made a commitment we were going to resolve issues for our country."
Rogers' appreciation for what they've accomplished suggests he may not be eager to leave his current day job.
"This stuff is just too important to our country for partisan bickering. So let's work through these issues and bring people together," Rogers said. "It's paid big dividends. Now, I argue, we're hitting our stride."
Dianne Byrum, a former Democratic state lawmaker who lost to Rogers by 115 votes in 2000, said if he decided to run for Senate, he wouldn't be able to walk the fine line of bipartisanship on intelligence issues and the partisan politics of pursuing the Michigan seat.
"He has to do one or the other," Byrum said. "If he was going to put his hat in the ring for U.S. Senate, I think there's an obligation that he step aside as head of that committee. I just don't think he can do both."
While Byrum didn't think Rogers would run for the Senate, she said his greatest strength is his personality. "He has a way of putting people at ease, very jovial," she said.
Retired Ambassador John Negroponte, who served as the first director of national intelligence, said that on overseas trips Rogers had a reputation for going beyond the standard briefings.
"He very much enjoyed going to the remote reaches of the field and talking to people right at the end of the line, if you will," Negroponte said. "So I think he had kind of a popular touch, didn't just go in for the high-level briefings to meet the president and the prime minister and ambassador and all that kind of stuff. He was very hands-on."
As Intelligence Committee chairman, Rogers has enjoyed plenty of free media as a mainstay on the talk shows, discussing the various hot-topic national security issues.
He favors creation of a safe zone on Syria's border with Turkey where opposition forces to President Bashar Assad could train without fear of the regime's helicopters and aircraft.
He praised the Obama administration's swift response to North Korea's saber-rattling, with missile defense and military exercises in a show of strength directed at the North's leader, Kim Jong Un.
"He's young, he's brash and Dennis Rodman is probably not the guy who's going to talk him out of it," Rogers said of the North Korean president.
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