Hoyer, Murtha vie for No. 2 House spot

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Charles Hurt

House Democrats face their first ma­jor in­ter­nal bat­tle since their stun­ning vic­tory on Nov. 7, a fight that pits some of the cham­ber’s anti-war Democrats against the ide­o­log­i­cal cen­ter of their party.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Mary­land, now the No. 2 Demo­crat in the cau­cus and thus in line to hold the ma­jor­ity leader’s post, faces a chal­lenge from Rep. John P. Murtha of Penn­syl­va­nia, who has come to rep­re­sent the party’s anti-war move­ment be­cause of his strong cri­tique of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of the war.

Though Mr. Murtha is oth­er­wise a fairly con­ser­va­tive Demo­crat, his po­si­tion on the war ap­peals to many lib­er­als in his ranks and, say Demo­cratic staffers, he has the private bless­ing of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, the cau­cus’s head and the pre­sumed next House speaker.

Within min­utes of Democrats’ cap­tur­ing the 15th seat needed to take con­trol of the House, Mr. Hoyer tried tight­en­ing his grip on the ma­jor­ity leader po­si­tion by re­mind­ing fel­low Democrats that he had been a cen­tral fig­ure in their cau­cus dur­ing their dark­est times.

“We have put for­ward re­spon­si­ble bud­gets, pro­posed smarter de­fense poli­cies, ad­vanced in­no­va­tive ideas on en­ergy in­de­pen­dence and stood strong against the pri­va­ti­za­tion of So­cial Se­cu­rity,” he said. “I have been proud to be a part of all of those ef­forts ev­ery step of the way.”

He also has said he has the votes to sew up the No. 2 po­si­tion.

Mr.Murthare­mind­ed­col­leagues that his strong­est voice in re­cent years came in op­po­si­tion to the Iraq war, which strate­gists on both sides credit in part for Democrats’ enor­mous vic­to­ries last week.

“Talk is cheap, which is why, up un­til Iraq forced me to, I didn’t do a lot of it,” the for­mer Marine told col­leagues. “But empty rhetoric is ex­pen­sive. It has cost Amer­ica three years in a failed war at nearly three thou­sand lives lost and will cost us a tril­lion dol­lars by the time we can ex­tri­cate our­selves from it.”

While the lib­eral Mrs. Pelosi must fig­ure out how to unify an in­creas­ingly con­ser­va­tive cau­cus, she ad­dresses the lead­er­ship fight for the No. 2 spot gin­gerly. She’s of­fi­cially stay­ing out of the con­test — which will be de­cided this week — but few won­der where she stands.

She has a long friend­ship with Mr. Murtha and, Democrats say, sup­ports his can­di­dacy. Mr. Hoyer, in con­trast, has been Mrs. Pelosi’s ri­val for lead­er­ship po­si­tions in pre­vi­ous years.

But the last thing she wants is a nasty in­ter­nal fight that ex­ac­er­bates dif­fer­ences in her cau­cus be­tween the fierce anti-war Democrats and those from the more con­ser­va­tive wing, many of whom were elected to Repub­li­can-held seats last week.

Some Democrats also worry about mov­ing Mr. Murtha into a high-profile lead­er­ship po­si­tion af­ter run­ning so many cam­paigns about clean­ing up the cor­rup­tion in Congress. Mr. Murtha was among eight mem­bers of Congress caught up in the so-called Ab­scam bribery scan­dal of the 1970s and 1980s. While Mr. Murtha told the FBI agents pos­ing as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a fic­ti­tious Arab sheik that he was “not in­ter­ested,” he point­edly left open the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture deal­ings.

While­mu­chofMr.Murtha’ssup­port stems from his anti-war cre­den­tials, Hoyer sup­port­ers are quick to high­light Mr. Murtha’s con­ser­va­tive po­si­tion on abor­tion and other is­sues.

“Steny has an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to core Demo­cratic prin­ci­ples,” a group of top Democrats wrote in a let­ter to col­leagues on Mr. Hoyer’s be­half. “There sim­ply is no ques­tion that Steny is deeply com­mit­ted to our Party’s ef­forts on civil and hu­man rights, our sup­port for work­ing men and women, our com­mit­ment to ed­u­ca­tion and health care, and our fight to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment — to name a few.”

The let­ter was signed by Demo­cratic Reps. Bar­ney Frank of Mas­sachusetts, John D. Din­gell of Michi­gan, John Lewis of Ge­or­gia, Henry A. Wax­man of Cal­i­for­nia and Ike Skel­ton of Mis­souri, among oth­ers.

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