Just a few months ago, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s appointment to the intelligence committee drew mild resistance and private snickering from her Republican colleagues. Now, it’s becoming a central part of the narrative behind a presidential campaign that is quickly gaining steam.
At Monday’s Republican presidential debate, Bachmann flexed her newfound national security credentials: She told the nation that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had been unable to identify a vital national security interest in Libya, and she discussed reports that the Al Qaeda branch in North Africa might be coordinating with the Libyan rebels. In doing so, she demonstrated a facility with national security issues that comes with regular access to high-level secrets.
It was, quite simply, a different Michele Bachmann who emerged on stage at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire — a nuanced, focused and polished politician rather than the one-dimensional firebrand she’s been caricatured as in the past. If she is to make a serious run at the presidential nomination, Monday’s debate might be the turning point that gave the GOP establishment a reason to give her a second look.
Bachmann is following a well-worn path for lawmakers who hope to become prominent national political figures. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi served on the intelligence committee, and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, previously known best for her work on domestic issues, sought a seat on the Armed Services Committee two years into her first term. Now, Clinton is the nation’s top diplomat as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
Bachmann’s aspiration for higher office has been an open secret on Capitol Hill for quite some time. And while many viewed her choice of intelligence over a seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee as a sign she might run for president, those close to her say there’s a strategy behind her interest in intelligence.