Steny Hoyer's first test under Pelosi

We are all familiar with Hoyer's longtime efforts to backstab Pelosi in particular, and progressive (or just plain gutsy) Democrats in general, in order to get her job.  

Now that he's kept his current job, he's getting an immediate test that will show whether or not he's willing to help put forward a united front of effective opposition to Bush, or if he's going to continue to hamstring Pelosi and the Backbone Democrats on Iraq and other issues.

Chris Dodd in Connecticut has just put forward a proposal to restore habeas corpus and our Constitution. We know that Hoyer's good friend Joe Lieberman will oppose this tooth and nail.  But what about Hoyer?  Will he back it?  Or will he back Bush and Lieberman?  Let's call him and find out.

There's more...

Thoughts On the Majority Leader Campaign

In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the Majority Leader campaign, now that it is finally over:
  • Democrats just elected a Majority Leader in the House. After twelve years in the minority, that should be the headline.
  • Yes, this is getting more press than the Republican vote for Senate whip. However, that vote was for the #2 spot in the minority. This was for the #2 spot in the majority. We should get more press.
  • Yes, Murtha had ethics problems, but I really worry about Hoyer's love of K-Street.
  • Yes, Hoyer has Iraq problems, but remember that Rep. Waxman, the guy who will be leading the investigations on Iraq, endorsed Hoyer. That isn't clear cut either.
  • Yes, Pelosi endorsed Murtha, and as such there are worries this could undercut her position. However, I heard from a source on the Hill that I trust very much that the caucus would actually be less unified under Murtha than it would be under Hoyer.
  • Yes, Murtha's gutsy stance on Iraq helped us win these elections as much as anything else over the past two years, and there should have been more of a reward for him than this. But he didn't have to shoot all the way for Majority leader. That is a bit of a step upward.
  • Even though I knew it was important, I did not like focusing on this. I know these sorts of things have to be done, and the netroots must work to support its champions and to remake the Democratic caucus on all levels, but overall it was too insider baseball for my tastes. Movements do not obsess over things like Vice-Presidential speculation, the best of two questionable choices for minority leader, or the internal Hill politics of whose staff gets along, and whose staff does not. Keeping the caucus in line and on focus was never going to be solved through this election, no matter who won. We have better tools in our box for that than this election.
Let's get back to work.

Murtha's Ethics Reform Problem

I'm not going to wade into the relevance of long-ago ethics issues or even questions about the earmarking process in the House Appropriations Committee, but I still have some serious questions about Jack Murtha's commitment to ethics and lobbying reforms, which were among the top reasons why the American people elected a Democratic Congress last Tuesday.

Today, Roll Call quoted Congressman Murtha as saying that the Democrats' ethics and lobbying reform legislation was "total crap", but that he would support them out of deference to presumptive-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to Justin Rood over at TPM Muckraker, Murtha went on MSNBC's Hardball and claimed that his statements were taken out of context, telling Matthews,

"What I said was, it's total crap, the idea we have to deal with an issue like this, when. . . we've got a war going on and we got all these other issues."

If it were the case that Murtha believed that it was necessary to deal with the Iraq War before moving on to other reforms, that would be one thing. But the problem is that Murtha already has a track record of not only opposing Democratic reform legislation but actually helping to kill it.

Back in May, the Democrats had enough Republican votes to pass strict a strict lobbying and ethics reform package (or at least force endangered Republicans to have to vote no, damaging their reelection efforts) -- if the Democratic caucus remained unified on the issue. But the Democratic measure failed on a 216 to 213 vote, with Democratic Representatives Boucher of Virginia, Capuano of Massachusetts, Sabo of Minnesota and Murtha of Pennsylvania voting no. As I wrote at the time,

I appreciate that there were principles behind the votes of Boucher, Capuano, Murtha and Sabo, that in their minds there was a great reason behind voting no on the roll call vote. But by abandoning their party at such a key juncture they gave sixteen Republicans an unbelievable gift.

Most of those sixteen GOP Representatives -- Charlie Bass (NH), Jeb Bradley (NH), Michael Castle (DE), Steve Chabot (OH), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Mark Green (WI), Nancy Johnson (CT), Walter Jones (NC), Jim Leach (IA), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Todd Platts (PA), Jim Ramstad (MN), Chris Shays (CT), Rob Simmons (CT) and Heather Wilson (NM) -- come from districts that are marginally Republican, at best, and many of them face very tough challenges from the Democrats this year. Were any of them forced to vote against the real lobbying reform proposal forwarded by the Democratic Party as a result of intense pressure from their own party leadership (the GOP almost always seems able to whip together the necessary votes for victory one way or another), surely they would have been hampered by the press, who seem to be in favor of reform, and hit by campaign ads highlighting their unwillingness to clean up Washington.

But these 16 Republican Congressmen did not have to make the tough choice between defending their party and defending themselves. Why? Because four Democratic Congressmen didn't make them. They just gave them a free pass to vote for a popular proposal that didn't have the votes to be enacted -- and thus wouldn't damage the GOP as a whole.

I still do not recall having heard a compelling argument as to why Rep. Murtha voted to kill the Democrats' reform legislation -- and his statement to Roll Call and his obfuscation on MSNBC does not alleviate this situation whatsoever.

As I said before, I am less confident that Steny Hoyer would be the best possible House Majority Leader than I once was. But as many have rightly noted, the choice at this juncture is between Reps. Murtha and Hoyer. And without the ethics reform issue being clearly resolved, I would find it very difficult to support a bid by Rep. Murtha -- even keeping in mind the large role he played in helping the Dems retake the House by coming out so strongly on the issue of Iraq.

There's more...

Jack Murtha for Majority Leader

The battle for House Majority Leader may not be an obvious thing for me to be blogging about. Too inside baseball.  However, I do have an opinion.  Democrats have an obligation to present a unified, dignified, and diverse front to the American People.  In her reign as House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi has demonstrated a personal style in some respects reminiscent of a plantation mistress.  Her treatment of the Congressional Black Caucus as her personal servants and her refusal to defend the honor of Cynthia McKinney has left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Mrs. Pelosi forced the removal of some members of the Congressional Black Caucus from co-sponsoring the Voting Rights Act of 2006 for fear the Republicans in control of Congress would back off and kill it because it was "too black." Miss Nancy rules with an iron hand and demands compliance with her dictates.  She cut Congresswoman Jane Harman loose from having a leadership role as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, where she has been nothing more than a coquettish doormat for the Bush Administration.

Now, as she sits on the precipice of unprecedented power as the Speaker of the House in waiting, she has made her choice for Majority Leader known for all to see.  When she needed someone to manage her race for House Leadership, Jack Murtha was the man to who she turned.  When the House Democratic Caucus needed someone of unchallenged credibility on military matters to articulate opposition to the Iraq debacle, she turned to decorated marine and Vietnam Veteran Jack Murtha.

There's more...

An Unfortunate Choice For Nancy Pelosi

I applaud John Murtha for being out front on denouncing the war in Iraq, but what would the ascension of Murtha to the post of House majority leader mean for progressive goals for the next two years? I just wrote an agonizingly difficult piece for TomPaine.com on concerns that naming Murtha majority leader undermines a key message that the Democrats must send -- that they, unlike the Republicans, will practice what they preach about ethics and transparency in government, and not engage in the sleazy backroom dealing for earmarks and other favors for lobbyists and campaign contributors that helped bring down the Republican majority. Everyone acknowledges that neither Murtha nor current minority whip Steny Hoyer have come to this race with clean hands in the eyes of progressives, but -- at the risk of sounding Rumsfeldian, you have to go with the contest you have, not the contest you want. Nonetheless, it is sad that it took less than two weeks to dull the shine of an extraordinary Election Day victory.

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