- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

Rep. John P. Murtha, who has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, threw a political curveball yesterday by announcing he would run for majority leader if the Democrats win back the House in November.

The Pennsylvania lawmaker gave no warning before telling members he would challenge Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland for the majority leader role, and the news sent a shock wave through the Capitol.

“Our goal is to win the House back, and if there’s an open seat, I’m the candidate,” Mr. Murtha said.

Shocked and angered party members, who have been working to appear united as Republican approval ratings decline, said Mr. Murtha’s move could potentially devastate their efforts.

“This is a huge disruption and a major distraction and it’s not what we need right now,” a senior Democratic aide told The Washington Times. “It’s a surprise and members don’t like it.”

The aide compared the announcement to a “grenade” thrown by Mr. Murtha, a decorated war veteran, and accused him of putting his own ambition above the party’s needs.

Another Democratic aide said Mr. Murtha is “putting the cart before the donkey.”

Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen Bernards said her boss has worked hard to unify the caucus with the top priority of taking back the House, earning him support from most Democrats.

“As a result of that unity, he is confident that we will be successful in November and intends to run for majority leader,” she said.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was traveling home to California yesterday and had no response. Her office declined to comment.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are mostly in agreement that Mrs. Pelosi would become speaker if the party is victorious in November. Democrats need at least 15 seats to win the majority.

Murtha spokeswoman Cindy Abram declined any further comment yesterday.

Mr. Murtha, a 73-year-old former Marine, has become the Democratic anti-war point man and the party’s most vocal war opponent. The 17-term lawmaker also stunned the Pentagon last month by using atrocities purportedly committed by Marines in Haditha, Iraq, to argue for troop withdrawal. Anti-war Democrats, who likely would support his bid, have praised him as an honest fighter.

Mr. Murtha is one of the leading Democrats on the Appropriations Committee and has been considered helpful to the military during his 34-year legislative career.

Mr. Hoyer, who just returned from a visit to Iraq, supported the war but thinks the United States did not send enough troops.

The senior Democratic aide said Mr. Murtha is considered a liberal maverick who is not a team player, and too closely aligned with Mrs. Pelosi.

“People feel like there has been a good team in place, and that would not be the case if Murtha was No. 2,” the aide said.

Mr. Hoyer and Mrs. Pelosi once battled over the minority leader post, but this week, Mr. Hoyer said no one would challenge Mrs. Pelosi for the speakership if the Democrats win the House.

“Nancy Pelosi has done a wonderful job,” he said Tuesday. “She and I have been able to bring together various spectrums of the caucus. If we lose, it will not be Nancy Pelosi’s fault.”

But Republicans said the announcement by Mr. Murtha “completely” undercuts Democratic efforts to win seats this year.

“This is fantastic news in the Democrats’ imaginary land of their make-believe majority,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

Republicans expect the furniture to “stay as is” in Majority Leader John A. Boehner’s office, said Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican. “Candidates who start measuring office furniture before they even get past the job interview never, ever get the job,” he said.

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