WASHINGTON -- Rep. Devin Nunes tried to get appointed to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence soon after he began serving in Congress in 2003. He didn't get his wish until four years ago.
Now the Tulare Republican wants to lead that committee, citing his long-standing interest in foreign affairs and commitment to continuing the panel's oversight over the White House's intelligence activities.
If Nunes becomes the next chairman, Californians will control the House and Senate intelligence committees, wielding considerable power over Uncle Sam's covert operations at home and abroad.
Nunes, a conservative Republican and a vocal critic of congressional Democrats and the Obama administration, would have to curb his partisan instincts and work with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And though he'd be involved in shaping some of the most controversial and clandestine work of the federal government, Nunes couldn't talk about it because much of the material will be classified.
Nunes won't find out until after the November midterm elections if he will be successful in his bid to replace retiring intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican. That is, if the GOP retains its House majority - as most analysts believe it will.
In a recent interview, Nunes discussed why he wants the job, what securing it would mean for his district and his state, and why he's optimistic about his chances even though more senior lawmakers are said to be vying for the position.
"My interest goes back a long ways. I've always had a strong interest in international relations . . . and making sure that we avert catastrophes that are always ongoing, whether it's finding al-Qaida or the situation in Crimea right now," Nunes said. "First and foremost, your role is to oversee the (intelligence community) to make sure they're truly functioning for all parts of government. The role of oversight I take very seriously."
Nunes said becoming chairman would give him "a definite step up in terms of my ability to influence legislation by being at the leadership table."
He now heads the trade subcommittee of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee -- a post he said is directly relevant to his district -- and doesn't anticipate having to give that up if he becomes the next intelligence chairman.
Nunes said he's shoring up alliances with GOP leaders and key rank-and-file members as he lays the groundwork to succeed Rogers, who announced in late March that he will retire in January to become a radio host.
Other intelligence committee members such as Florida Republican Jeff Miller and New York Republican Peter King are also said to be interested. If the intelligence committee operated by the same seniority rules as most other congressional panels, Nunes wouldn't stand a chance. King, who's serving his 11th term in the House, and Miller, a seven-term lawmaker, have been in Congress for longer than Nunes, 40, who's serving his sixth term.
But Nunes explained that he has as good a shot -- if not better -- than any other intelligence committee member because seniority is not the primary consideration in picking the leader.
"It's the speaker's decision, period," he said in a recent interview.
What matters more, Nunes explained, is the candidate's interest level, knowledge and the ability to explain complicated intelligence matters to other party members.
If Rep. John Boehner remains the speaker after the elections, Nunes could have a leg up on the competition because of his close ties to the Ohio Republican. Nunes helped Boehner win his first speaker's race in 2006 and considers him a family friend and mentor. Nunes has also won the Republican Party's goodwill by raising lots of money for the party.
He has also served as a bridge between ultraconservatives and GOP leaders and defended Boehner against tea-party attacks. During last fall's partial government shutdown, Nunes took to the airwaves to denounce the ultraconservative faction for damaging the GOP. His comments carried weight because of Nunes' conservative credentials.
On the intelligence committee, Nunes has been a vocal advocate of digging deep into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
As chairman, he said he would continue to hold the executive branch accountable for the covert work done by the CIA, the National Security Agency and about 15 other intelligence offices in the military and agencies.
Analysts said the next chairman must set partisanship aside to work for the national interest rather than their party's interest. Cooperation across the aisle is a job requirement.
"The intelligence institutions think of themselves as rigidly nonpartisan," said Gregory Treverton, a Rand Corp. analyst and former intelligence staffer for the Senate and the National Security Council. "They work for the party in power but they do think of themselves as nonpartisan. So they get uncomfortable when partisan debates arise."
Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar, said Rogers and the House intelligence panel's ranking Democrat, Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, set a cooperative approach after years of partisan sniping under previous leaders.
That should continue as the House and Senate intelligence committees take the first crack at writing legislation dealing with sensitive and clandestine activities the federal government undertakes, analysts say.
"The intelligence community only has authority to do things that are granted to it by law," Wittes said. "One of the things the intelligence committees do is they massage and tinker with these surveillance authorities of the federal government."
Aside from his beef with the Obama administration over the Benghazi attack, Nunes agrees with the White House on at least one other prominent matter. Both say former NSA contractor Edward Snowden must be prosecuted for leaking classified material. Nunes said the leak jeopardized U.S. service members because the NSA provides key intelligence to the military.
Nunes suggested that setting aside partisanship shouldn't be a factor if he becomes chairman.
"It's a fairly bipartisan committee," Nunes said, "largely because the TV cameras are off."