Effort to reprimand Murtha falls short
All but two House Democrats backed Rep. John P. Murtha on May 22, killing a resolution that suggested he be reprimanded for threatening a Republican member over earmarks.
The House voted 219-189 without debate to kill a privileged resolution offered by Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, detailing his confrontation with Mr. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat.
Mr. Murtha sat in the back of the House chamber during the vote, laughing and accepting pats and handshakes from at least two dozen Democrats.
“This is for John Murtha,” announced Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, as he voted.
“Thank you,” Mr. Murtha, 74, told Rep. Diane Watson, California Democrat, after kissing her hand.
Two Democrats — Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jim Cooper of Tennessee — were not so willing to embrace Mr. Murtha, a 34-year veteran of the House who has faced criticism for being a bully.
Mr. Blumenauer said that because the facts aren’t known, “the issue deserved debate or a referral to the ethics committee.”
“If [former Majority Leader] Tom DeLay had been accused of threatening a Democrat on the House floor, I would expect the same,” he said, noting the discussion “is in order if we are going to be the most ethical and transparent Congress in history.”
The resolution had accused Mr. Murtha of violating House rules in an exchange with Mr. Rogers, who attempted to strip Mr. Murtha’s $23 million earmark for the National Drug Intelligence Center earlier this month.
Mr. Murtha confronted the Re- publican on the floor during a vote and said any earmarks that Mr. Rogers had submitted for the defense appropriations bill are “gone” and that the Republican would not get any earmarks “now and forever.”
House rules state that earmarks cannot be subject to how a member votes on legislation.
Mr. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran and vocal Iraq war critic, is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense and controls that important spending bill.
There were 13 members who voted “present,” instead of casting a “yea” or “nay” on the resolution. Of those, eight serve on the ethics panel.
Because the panel’s work is done in secret, it is not known whether it is investigating Mr. Murtha. Chairman Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio did not vote, but panel member Rep. Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania Democrat, voted to kill the resolution.
Rep. Tim Murphy was the only Republican to join the chamber’s Democrats in supporting his Pennsylvania colleague.
Within 90 seconds of the vote, Republicans sent out a press release with a headline that blared: “It’s Official: Democrats Vote to Cover Up Murtha Ethics Violation.”
The resolution was first submitted on May 21, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer moved to “table” it, prompting Republican boos.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said it “re- mains to be seen” whether the Rogers accusations are true.
“I have said all along that I believe the ethics committee needs to take under consideration items that are made public that assert that violations of the ethics code of the rules of the House have been made,” Mr. Hoyer said.
When asked whether Mr. Murtha should apologize, Mr. Hoyer said the congressman “will have to do in terms of what he believes to be appropriate.”
Republicans say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in supporting her key ally, is violating her campaign promise to run the “most honest and open Congress in history.”
“If the new majority is sincere about keeping its pledge to run the most open and ethical Congress in history, they will join Republicans in upholding the House rules we adopted in January which clearly prohibit the threats made by Representative Murtha,” said Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio before the vote.
Mr. Boehner said the May 17 confrontation, which Mr. Murtha has not denied, is “part of a growing pattern of abuses that show the House has moved away from earmark reform under Democrats, rather than toward it.”
The Hill newspaper reported on May 22 that Mr. Murtha submitted the drug center earmark five weeks after the intelligence panel’s deadline for receiving earmarks. The newspaper also said Mr. Murtha failed to notify the panel’s ranking Republican, in a violation of rules.
Big bully? Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha (right) has not denied a confrontation on May 17 with Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, in which Mr. Murtha reportedly threatened to kill his earmarks.