- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2006

House Democrats yesterday overwhelmingly rejected Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi’s choice for majority leader.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and Pelosi ally, lost a lopsided 149-86 vote to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who has been a longtime political rival of Mrs. Pelosi’s.

Mrs. Pelosi, who campaigned openly and aggressively for Mr. Murtha, tried patching up differences immediately after the secret vote held behind closed doors.

“We’ve had our differences in our party,” she said, with a grinning Mr. Hoyer beside her and a glum-looking Mr. Murtha behind her. “We have come together.”

But before turning the microphone over to Mr. Hoyer, Mrs. Pelosi once again talked about why she strongly backed Mr. Murtha for the No. 2 post.

“I thank him for his courage in stepping forward one year ago to speak truth to power, to change the debate in this country in a way that I think gave us this majority in this November,” she said in reference to Mr. Murtha’s early calls for withdrawing the troops from Iraq.

“I was proud to support him for majority leader because I thought that would be the best way to bring an end to the war in Iraq,” she said. “I know that he will continue to take the lead on that issue for our caucus, for this Congress, for our country.”

Mr. Hoyer, who never went negative in the leadership race even as Mr. Murtha publicly accused him of supporting President Bush’s war policy, was gracious in victory, saluting Mrs. Pelosi for being elected the first female House speaker in U.S. history.

“She is not the first speaker because she’s a woman,” he said. “She is the first woman speaker because she is a person of deep values, keen intellect and extraordinary political ability.”

Despite the show of unity before the cameras, yesterday’s vote showed that nearly two-thirds of the new Democratic majority in the House was willing to defy Mrs. Pelosi’s demand that they vote for Mr. Murtha.

Since gaining 29 seats in the Nov. 7 election, House Democrats have privately expressed deep concern over Mr. Murtha and say Mrs. Pelosi blundered by backing him so forcefully.

Some Democrats said that an ally like Mr. Murtha in the No. 2 spot would give Mrs. Pelosi unchecked power.

But most Democrats said they opposed Mr. Murtha because they had run campaigns on a promise to clean up corruption in Washington, and Mr. Murtha is one of the most scandal-tainted members of Congress. He was implicated a quarter-century ago in the so-called Abscam bribery scandal.

Some wondered why Mrs. Pelosi stuck her neck out so far so early on Mr. Murtha’s behalf.

But Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said that in the aftermath, “No one would question her loyalty.”

Others speculated that Mrs. Pelosi urged Mr. Murtha to run for Mr. Hoyer’s No. 2 position in order to focus attention on a Hoyer-Murtha showdown — thus preventing a possible challenge by Mr. Hoyer against Mrs. Pelosi for the speaker’s job.

Mr. Murtha said yesterday he would return to the “small subcommittee that I have on Appropriations,” a joking reference to the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee.

Mr. Murtha himself may not have been entirely surprised by the loss of his bid for a leadership spot. A video recording that showed him negotiating for 54 minutes with undercover FBI agents more than two decades ago included Mr. Murtha’s explanation of why one of his fellow congressmen was accepting a $50,000 bribe but Mr. Murtha was declining it.

“He doesn’t expect to be in leadership,” Mr. Murtha told the disguised FBI agents. “I have to be more careful. That’s what it amounts to. I expect to be in the … leadership of the House, and you have anything said against you, then you’ve got a problem.”

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