- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

House Democrats overwhelmingly chose Rep. Nancy Pelosi yesterday to lead them in the next Congress, making her the first woman ever to head a party caucus.
Mrs. Pelosi, who has been criticized both inside and outside her party as too liberal, immediately appointed Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and a budget-hawk conservative, as assistant leader, and she promised to produce an economic message for Democrats to rally around.
"What Democrats will do, working together, is build consensus around an economic-growth message," she told reporters after defeating Tennessee Democrat Harold E. Ford Jr., 177-29.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who entered the race Wednesday, pulled out before the voting yesterday after advising the party to embrace a more populist agenda.
House Democrats are looking for a message to win a majority in 2004, by which time they will have been in the minority for 10 years. In last week's midterm elections, they lost five to seven seats, depending on recounts and runoff elections.
Those midterm losses, near unprecedented for the party outside the White House, prompted Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt to announce last Thursday he would not seek re-election.
"I did the best I could. We made progress three times, we didn't make progress last time, and it's time for a change," Mr. Gephardt said yesterday.
Despite the turnover, the final vote for leader was more a testament to Mrs. Pelosi's organizational ability than a statement on party ideology.
Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat and outgoing caucus chairman, had offered himself as a centrist challenger to Mrs. Pelosi, but he withdrew last week after realizing she had already locked up enough support to win.
The same day, Mr. Ford announced his candidacy. He said the elections were a "shake-up call" and said Mrs. Pelosi, currently Democratic whip, did not represent a break with the present party leadership. Members, though, said he entered the race too late to make much headway.
At the post-vote news conference, Mr. Ford stood with Mrs. Pelosi. Later, he said, "I plan to be active and involved in crafting a message for the party."
But Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Ford showed "poor judgment" in pursuing his bid.
"He gave quotes Republicans are going to continue to use," Mr. Moran said, adding that Mr. Ford's 29 votes amounted to "no showing."
Mrs. Pelosi's voting record last year received a 100 percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action, the standard for liberal groups, and achieved a high score with the AFL-CIO. It scored low with the American Conservative Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
She led opposition to the resolution authorizing the president to use force in Iraq, and she was one of about a dozen Democrats who signed a letter two years ago asking President Clinton to resign from the Boy Scouts to protest its policy prohibiting homosexual scoutmasters.
Republicans yesterday were eagerly anticipating the San Francisco Democrat as becoming the face of her party in the House.
"It's great," said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican. "It looks like they are returning to their Haight-Ashbury politics."
Democrats also selected the rest of their leadership yesterday, and installed the most ethnically diverse team ever.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland faced no opposition in winning the whip's position. Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey scored a one-vote victory over Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut for caucus chairman, giving the caucus their highest-level Hispanic leader. Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who is black, won a three-way race for caucus vice chairman.
"Isn't this the picture of America?" Mrs. Pelosi said in introducing the new team.
As for herself, she said she ran on her record as an effective lawmaker and leader, not on her sex.
"It just so happens I am a woman, and we have been waiting a long time for this moment," she said.
Other parts of the new team, including Mr. Menendez and Mr. Hoyer, are more conservative than Mrs. Pelosi, though Mr. Hoyer said he and Mrs. Pelosi "are in overwhelming agreement on issues of importance to the American people."
He said last week's elections were a loss, but not indicative of a huge swing in the electorate.
He said to be successful, Democrats need to show the American people they stand for a strong defense, share American values of "faith, family and country" and are committed to creating safe neighborhoods, and then focus on jobs, education and health care.
The Republicans' new House leadership team, elected Wednesday, includes Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas as majority leader, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri as whip, and Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio as Republican Conference chairman.
Rep. J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois won his party's endorsement for a third term as speaker of the House, and will officially win the position in a full House vote when the 108th Congress convenes in January. The other new leaders assume their duties at that time.
The party leader sets direction for the party, the whip organizes support for caucus positions and the caucus chairman runs the meetings during which party members debate and hash out policy. The majority leader also controls the floor schedule.
The Democratic caucus chairman's race provided the party with the clearest battle between a liberal, Mrs. DeLauro, and someone more conservative, Mr. Menendez.
Members, though, said the vote was more about party roots than choosing between ideologies.
"It didn't turn on that at all," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat. "I think it was dozens of 'retail politics' conversations."
"Both of them had a history within the Democratic Party," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat. "No one disliked anybody in this thing. It was that kind of thing among members."


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