Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


Jane L. Harman first won election to the House of Representatives in 1992, the breakthrough “Year of the Woman,” and became a leading figure in Congress on security issues as a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In 2001, after leaving Congress for a term to run, unsuccessfully, for California governor, Harman reclaimed her former seat. “The quality of life in Congress stinks,” Harman said during her re-election bid in 2000. “On the other side of the ledger is the future of public policy in this country. And I’m a policy addict.”1 During her second period of service in the House, she served on the intelligence panel and on the newly created Committee on Homeland Security.

Jane Harman was born Jane Margaret Lakes in New York City on June 28, 1945, to Adolph N. and Lucille (Geier) Lakes. Raised in Los Angeles, she graduated from University High School in 1962. After earning a BA in government from Smith College in 1966, she received her law degree from Harvard three years later.2 She worked for two years at a Washington, DC, law firm before joining the staff of California U.S. Senator John Varick Tunney in 1972. In 1975 she became chief counsel and staff director of the Constitutional Rights Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She served as deputy secretary to the Cabinet of President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1978 and then became a special counsel to the Department of Defense. She married Richard Frank in 1969, and they had two children: Brian and Hilary. They divorced in 1978, and two years later, she married Sidney Harman, the founder of an audio and electronics company.3 Through the 1980s, Harman worked as a corporate lawyer and as a director of her husband’s company. The Harmans have two children: Daniel and Justine. Sidney Harman died in April 2011.4

Harman first pursued elected office in 1992, when she ran for a newly drawn congressional seat that ran along the coast of southern California from Venice to Long Beach. In one of the few primaries during the 1992 election cycle that featured two women, Harman easily defeated Ada Unruh by 30 percentage points.5 In the general election, Harman faced Republican Joan Milke Flores, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, and three candidates from other parties. Harman spent $2.5 million, much of it her own money, during the campaign, and ran on a socially liberal but fiscally conservative platform. She defeated Flores by six percentage points.6 In 1994, running in one of the most competitive districts in the country in an election that propelled the GOP into the House majority for the first time in 40 years, Harman defeated her Republican opponent Susan Brooks by a mere 812 votes. When Harman faced Brooks again in 1996, she won by more than 19,000 votes (a margin of more than 8 percent).7

Harman’s congressional career began as the Cold War came to an end, and she supported the high-tech defense industry in her district as it adjusted to the new world order. From her seat on the Armed Services Committee from the 103rd through the 105th Congresses (1993–1999), she kept the Los Angeles Air Force Base off the list of post-Cold War closings.8 Despite a sharp decline in defense spending, Harman steered defense projects to her district. She also prodded the defense industry at home to retool for a peacetime economy. As a member of the Science Committee, with a seat on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, she brought work to companies looking for non-military projects. “I have viewed it as a major part of my job to help my district transition from defense-dependence, which was a dead-end strategy, to the robust diverse economy which it now enjoys,” Harman said.9

Harman’s centrist record in the House reflected her district’s preferences. She joined the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, which sought limited and targeted federal spending policies. During her first term, Harman favored President William J. (Bill) Clinton’s 1993 budget that decreased spending and raised taxes. Throughout her career, she continued to advocate for spending cuts as well as a balanced budget amendment and the line-item veto. Between 1993 and 1997, Harman cosponsored the Deficit Reduction Lock-box Act four times, which required that spending cuts be applied to the deficit.10 She voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement but backed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Harman also supported abortion rights, a partial ban on semi-automatic weapons, and the death penalty.11

In 1998 Harman pursued the Democratic nomination for California governor, foregoing a fourth House term. She ran a largely self-financed but late campaign. Harman tried to capitalize on her congressional experience and her appeal to women voters. “I am the only one running who has a combination of private sector and public sector experience, and I have a style of leadership which I have demonstrated in the Congress which builds coalitions and gets things done,” she said.12 She placed third in the Democratic primary, behind Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis and airline mogul Al Checchi.13 During her two-year absence from the House, Harman served on the 10-member, congressionally mandated National Council on Terrorism. In 2000 Harman reclaimed her House seat by narrowly defeating the incumbent, Republican Steven T. Kuykendall. In the next five election cycles, following reapportionment that added the city of Wilmington and removed the Palos Verdes Peninsula to make her district more Democratic, Harman secured nearly 60 percent of the vote or more against her opponents.14

When she returned to the House in the 107th Congress (2001–2003), Harman received a spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee and took her former seat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence—a nod to her experience and continued influence. She served as Ranking Member of the Working Group on Terrorism and Homeland Security, a subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, dramatically increased the Intelligence Committee’s duties as well as its profile, and Harman’s expertise was valued on both sides of the aisle. She favored improved funding for the intelligence community, the expansion of counter-proliferation programs, and backed the George W. Bush administration’s case for a preemptive strike against Iraq.15 As early as October 2001, Harman pushed for the creation of a Cabinet-level homeland security department that would have budgetary and oversight power, as opposed to the executive office that was initially established by the Bush administration.16 Harman sat on the Select Homeland Security Committee when it was established during the 108th Congress (2003–2005), and she kept her seat when it was reorganized as a standing committee in the 109th Congress (2005–2007). When Democrats controlled the House majority in the 110th and the 111th Congresses (2007–2011), Harman chaired the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment.17

In 2003 Harman became the Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee and chose to leave the Energy and Commerce Committee. On the Intelligence Committee, Harman worked to maintain a bipartisan atmosphere with her counterpart, Chairman Porter J. Goss of Florida. Harman and Goss pushed the Bush administration to declassify the majority of the findings of the congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.18 Harman began to question the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq War when weapons of mass destruction were not found.19 On September 25, 2003, Goss and Harman co-signed a letter to CIA Director George J. Tenet raising concerns about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which many lawmakers relied upon to authorize the use of force in Iraq. “As we moved to war, did the claims the policymakers made, were those claims supported by the intelligence?” Harman asked after the estimate was made public. “My conclusion is no.”20

When Democrats regained the majority in the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Harman was not named chair of the Intelligence Committee.21 She left the committee and returned to Energy and Commerce. In a statement on December 1, 2006, Harman said: “I remain passionate about the issues, and will stay actively involved in security matters on the Homeland Security and Energy and Commerce Committees. . . . I leave this position with incredible respect for the women and men of the Intelligence Community.”22

In 2007 Harman sponsored the Reducing Over-Classification Act, which required the Homeland Security Department to streamline the intelligence classification process. She wanted to avoid, in part, “classifying information to protect turf or avoid embarrassment” and sought to improve the fluidity of intelligence sharing between the local, state, and national levels.23 The legislation passed in the House by voice vote in the 110th Congress but failed to clear the Senate. When she reintroduced it in the 111th Congress, the bill easily passed both chambers and became law.24

Harman won re-election to her ninth term in 2010, but she resigned on February 28, 2011, to head the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. In her farewell speech to the House on February 18, Harman said, “As a lifelong, passionate, bipartisan-in-my-bones Democrat I have been criticized by both sides. But the center is where, in my view, most Americans are—and where, in many cases, the best policy answers are. I will bring that perspective with me to my new post at the Wilson Center.”25


1Eric Schmitt, “The 2000 Campaign: The House; Former Incumbents Try to Reclaim Seats,” 3 July 2000, New York Times: A11.

2Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2003): 136.

3Robert D. McFadden, “Sidney Harman, Whose Hi–Fi Success Was Only the Beginning, Dies at 92,” 14 April 2011, New York Times: A25.

4Congressional Directory: 109th Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006).

5Karen Foerstel and Herbert N. Foerstel, Climbing the Hill: Gender Conflict in Congress (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996): 78; California secretary of state, “Statement of Vote: Primary Election June 2, 1992,” accessed 1 May 2020, http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/1992–primary/1992–primary–sov.pdf.

6Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, "Election Statistics, 1920 to Present."

7“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

8The Armed Services Committee was renamed the Committee on National Security from 104th–105th Congresses (1995–1999).

9Paul Jacobs, “Defense Firms Were Key Donors to Harman Races; Gubernatorial Candidate Says She Backed Industry in Congress to Protect Jobs in South Bay,” 11 May 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

10Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 1st sess. (27 May 1993): H11589, H11952; “Controlling Defense Costs And The Deficit,” 21 November 2010, Washington Post: A19; Janet Rae-Dupree, “Elections: 36th Congressional District,” 25 October 1992, Los Angeles Times: B3; Joint Resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States, H.J. Res. 2, 112th Cong. (2011); Deficit Reduction Lock Box Act of 1993, H.R. 3205, 103rd Cong. (1993); Deficit Reduction Lock Box Act of 1994, H.R. 4057, 103rd Cong. (1994); Deficit Reduction Lock-box Act of 1995, H.R. 1162, 104th Cong. (1995); Deficit Reduction Lock-box Act of 1997, H.R. 126, 105th Cong. (1997).

11Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 1st sess. (17 November 1993): H29949; Congressional Record, House, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess. (29 November 1994): H29692; Zachary Coile, “Harman’s Formula For Winning,” 8 March 1998, San Francisco Examiner: A11.

12Cathleen Decker, “Showdown for Davis, Lungren: Voters Reject Millionaires Checchi and Harman in State’s First Blanket Primary,” 3 June 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

13Cathleen Decker and Mark Barabak, “Davis’ 4th–to–1st Comeback ‘Proved Pundits Wrong,’” 5 June 1998, Los Angeles Times: A1.

14Almanac of American Politics, 2004 (Washington, DC: National Journal Inc., 2003): 258; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

15Congressional Record, House, 107th Congress, 2nd sess. (9 October 2002): H7312–7313.

16“Harman and Gibbons Introduce ‘The Office of Homeland Security Act,’” official website of Representative Jane Harman, press release, 15 December 2001, https://web.archive.org/web/20011112160932/http://www.house.gov/harman/press/releases/100401homelandsecurity.html; Jane Harman, “Securing American Homeland Requires A Strategy,” 4 June 2002, The Hill: 26.

17Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, "Women Chairs of Subcommittees of Standing Committees in the U.S. House, 1947–Present."

18Toby Eckert, “Harman, Others Call for Release of Key Sections of 9/11 Probe,” 9 May 2003, Copley News Service. The House and Senate probe was separate from the Report of the 9/11 Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

19Bill Nichols and John Diamond, “U.S. Begins to Downplay Hunt For Banned Weapons,” 13 May 2003, USA Today: 11A.

20Dana Priest, “Democrat Disputes Rice on Iraq Claims; Rep. Harman Says Intelligence Review Unearthed Scant Evidence of Weapons,” 30 September 2003, Washington Post: A13.

21Mark Mazzetti and Jeff Zeleny, “Next Chairman for Intelligence Opposed War,” 2 December 2006, New York Times: A1.

22“Harman Statement on Naming of Rep. Silvestre Reyes as Incoming Chair of House Intelligence Committee,” official website of Representative Jane Harman, 1 December 2006, https://web.archive.org/web/20070104225402/http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/ca36_harman/12_01_06.html.

23Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (3 February 2009): H895.

24Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2008, H.R. 4806, 110th Cong. (2007); Congressional Record, House, 110th Cong., 2nd sess. (29 July 2008): H7186; Reducing Over-Classification Act, H.R. 553, 111th Cong. (2009); Reducing Over-Classification Act, PL 111-258, 124 Stat. 2648 (2010).

25Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, House, 112th Cong., 1st sess. (18 February 2012): E291.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

Smith College
The Sophia Smith Collection

Northampton, MA
Papers: 1960-1998 (ongoing), 110 linear feet. The Jane Harman Papers document the functions and activities of a Congressional office while incorporating facets of Harman's life before she became a member of Congress. There are very few materials regarding her personal life outside of her professional career. Types of materials include correspondence, reports and research materials, speeches, journal and newspaper articles, press releases, photographs, and video and audio tapes. The bulk of the papers date from 1993 to 1998 and focus on Harman's first three terms as a U.S. Representative from the 36th district of California. Major topics found in her political and legislative papers include national defense and the military (including women in the armed forces), the environment, space and technology, California-related issues, the Democratic National Party, health care, abortion and domestic and international economic concerns. Generally, there are more materials available from later in her political and legislative career than from the earlier years. Correspondence comprises at least half of the collection. Also well-represented are background and research materials that her staff used in legislative and political matters. Notable correspondents include: Les Aspin, Samuel Berger, Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Sen. Robert Byrd, President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, Gloria Feldt and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Vice President Al Gore, Judith L. Lichtman (Women's Legal Defense Fund), Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Ruth J. Simmons (Smith College president, 1995-2001), and Gloria Steinem. An inventory is available in the repository and online.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Jane L. Harman" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
  • House Committee - Energy and Commerce
  • House Committee - Homeland Security
    • Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment - Chair
  • House Committee - National Security
  • House Committee - Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
  • House Committee - Science
  • House Committee - Science, Space and Technology
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Homeland Security
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