Nancy Pelosi Elected Speaker, Bets on Murtha, Loses Big
Nancy Pelosi has been officially elected as Speaker of the House for the 110th Congress, which convenes in January. Her first act was a bold one, doubling down on her bet on John Murtha.
Pelosi also called for unity in the party, but within moments she put her prestige on the line by nominating Rep. John Murtha for majority leader — the No. 2 leadership post — in a hotly contested race. Voting in that race is underway. Murtha is running against Rep. Steny Hoyer, currently the party’s second in command, but long a rival to the new speaker-in-waiting.
I agree with Josh Marshall that “She’s staked her authority and credibility on a Murtha victory.” This is a bold move that could really establish her as a strong leader out of the box. It could also be quite embarrassing if the caucus goes against her. Steven Taylor is right: It’s certainly “a very odd and risky way to start a Speakership.”
Of course, it’s less risky and certainly less odd than bring Trent Lott back as the number two man on the Senate minority side and two-thirds of the failed House leadership team, as the Republicans seem to be doing.
House Democrats on Thursday chose Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer to be House majority leader over Rep. John Murtha, the choice of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), in line to become speaker. Hoyer was elected on a vote of 149-86.
The balloting marked a personal triumph for him, but also a snub to Pelosi, moments after the rank and file selected her unanimously to become speaker when the House convenes in January.
In a figurative sense, Hoyer is holding up a different finger altogether.
UPDATE: Bob Novak had a blistering column on this in today’s WaPo.
This is a no-win situation for Pelosi. If Murtha wins today, she will be accused of personal vindictiveness in derailing Hoyer, who is more popular in the caucus and better qualified for leadership. If Murtha loses, as is much more probable, she will be seen as bumbling her first attempt to lead the new Democratic majority. Pelosi could have avoided this dilemma by standing aside as Newt Gingrich, then the presumptive speaker, did when he voted for his ally Robert Walker as majority whip but did not ask members to oppose Tom DeLay.
Pelosi’s mistake confirms long-standing, privately held Democratic apprehension about her abilities. Such concerns do not reflect the Republican indictment of her as a reflexive San Francisco liberal. Some of her most trenchant congressional critics are on the left wing of the party. These colleagues worry that her decision making may be distorted by personal considerations.
Hoyer is the most accomplished Democratic legislator in the House, widely respected on both sides of the aisle. He, not Pelosi, would be preparing to be speaker had he not lost to her in a 2001 contest for minority whip, thanks to nearly complete support from her huge California delegation. That put Pelosi ahead of Hoyer on the leadership escalator. While Hoyer would win a secret poll of the Democratic caucus as more qualified, Democrats cannot turn aside the first female speaker.
Carl Hulse also noted questions about Pelosi’s decision in today’s NYT.
House members acknowledged on Wednesday that the increasingly bitter contest for majority leader was sullying the image of unity and new direction that Democrats hoped to convey. “It’s four days that we haven’t talked about our message and built on the euphoria,” said Representative Ellen O. Tauscher, a California Democrat who is supporting Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland in the leadership vote on Thursday. “We had such perfect pitch last week.”
Downtrodden Republicans were enjoying the spectacle of the split between Representative Nancy Pelosi, the incoming speaker, who is publicly pushing Representative John P. Murtha, her longtime ally, and Democrats rallying behind Mr. Hoyer, who has served in the leadership slot beneath Ms. Pelosi for four years. “I can’t believe they are self-destructing before they even get started,” said Representative Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois. “Everyone on our side is giddy.”