The incoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) failed her first test of leadership as Steny Hoyer beat Jack Murtha for the Majority Leader position in the new Democratic House. Pelosi had been strongly backing Murtha over the past few weeks, despite his ethical problems relating to the Abscam investigation in the 1980s and his history of earmarks.
Hoyer defeated Murtha by a vote of 149 to 86 — a rather astounding margin when Pelosi had been so strongly pulling for him.
Pelosi’s support of Murtha never made sense to me, unless it was due to their doctrinaire dislike of the war in Iraq. Murtha was never a strong candidate. His ethical issues were a ticking time bomb, and his style of management would not make him an appealing member of the Democratic leadership. There had to be some kind of quid pro quo involved somewhere. What it may have been is now probably an academic question.
Pelosi’s strong-arm tactics in pushing Murtha signal that despite all the rhetoric of unity coming from the Democratic camp, the divisions are already starting to show. The fact that Pelosi tried to use committee assignments to force Charlie Rangel into the Murtha camp do not bode well for Speaker Pelosi’s future relations with the Democratic majority. If this is going to be her governing style, the split between Pelosi’s liberals and the Blue Dog conservatives could get bigger and bigger over time.
The Democrats are caught in the same Catch-22 they’ve been caught in for years. They got to the majority based on winning in conservative districts, but now the liberal base that has the real power in the party is going to want results. One side of the other is going to have to win, and if the Blue Dogs win the liberal left may walk away. If the liberals win, it will help the Republicans in their efforts to regain the majority in 2008. Pelosi can’t push too strongly in either direction without tearing the Democratic caucus apart, which doesn’t help her all that much.
The only thing that seems to unify Democrats is wanting to bug out of Iraq, but with top generals saying that’s a horrendously bad idea, the Democrats are in serious political trouble. If they don’t cut and run, the liberal base will call them traitors. If they do, it will further demonstrate that the Democratic Party is not a party that can be taken seriously on national issues. A defeat in Iraq will be a defeat for the United States. Do the Democrats really want to be the party that pushed for an American defeat as the keystone of their majority agenda?
One thing is for certain, it’s going to be a very interesting two years…