WHY I'M NOT SUPPORTING MURTHA (OR HOYER) FOR HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER
Frankly I was surprised when I was first approached by a friend of mine from Maryland asking me, in effect, if I'd do a hit piece on Jack Murtha. I explained that I'd made it clear to DWT readers that I thought that despite Murtha's powerful, principled stand against Bush's occupation of Iraq neither his extraordinarily reactionary voting record nor his questionable ethics made him suitable for House Leader in my opinion.
Well, Steny needs that message to get out... on the blogs. "Steny?" "Hoyer?"
Well, there is no other Steny that I ever heard of and he and Murtha are duking it out for Majority Leader. I was intrigued. It took a week of negotiating but we finally set up a 30 minute phone interview. I just finished and I sat down to write this.
Could he, or his staffers, have read what I've written about him? I did a simple blog search on DWT and found 23 posts mentioning "Steny Hoyer." None are complementary.
When I asked if Steny would come for a live blog session at Firedoglake they said yes... after the leadership vote he'd have the time. And they asked if there was a way to keep people from calling him names. "He doesn't mind tough questions about his positions, like on the bankruptcy bill, but... will people be calling him 'shill' and things like that?" On Firedoglake? (Jane agreed to get extra site monitors for the occasion.)
Anyway, we'll see if that comes to pass. Meanwhile I did just talk with him and he certainly has a more sympathetic phone presence than either Rahm or Schumer. I'll admit two things: I felt a little bad for having used all those epithets to describe him and... I kind of liked him. You can see why he's been such a successful politician. No, he didn't satisfactorily explain his bankruptcy bill vote to me, but he did make a good case for why he shouldn't be kicked to the curb.
Virtually all of the bloggers whose opinions matter most to me, like Markos, David Sirota, John Amato, Taylor Marsh and Pach have already come out for Murtha. A lot of others are about to. The only pro-Hoyer blog I've seen is from an Inside-the-Beltway type who often tends to back the Democratic Establishment.
I'm certain he didn't write it himself, of course, but John Edwards' blog has an interesting endorsement of Murtha.
Maryland congressman Steny Hoyer has served the Democratic party well in his 25 years in the Congress but I hope he has the good sense to step aside and yield to Pennsylvania's John Murtha as the person best suited to serve as House Majority Leader during a time of war. Hoyer has built a reputation as a defender of Federal employees and a leader on education and human and civil rights issues. However, his comments last month that Michael Steele "slavishly" supports the Republican Party were inappropriate.
John Murtha is a knowledgeable and passionate voice who speaks from experience with great conviction on the number one issue confronting our nation today-- the war in Iraq. This is an issue which is paramount in the next two years. Lives are on the line as well as the nation's treasury which has been squandered and stands to be squandered further unless this mess is properly dealt with. Murtha deserves great credit for calling attention to the Haditha killings and for having the guts to take on the Bush/Rove smear machine. Murtha supports stem-cell research and is staunchly pro-labor, opposing both NAFTA and CAFTA. I realize Mr. Hoyer is a good and decent man who has paid his dues and is probably friendly and acceptable to corporate America. But as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid move the Congress forward in the post-DeLay/post-Abramoff era and endeavor to "drain the swamp" and implement true reforms, I would like the Democratic Party to choose a Majority Leader who appears "more pure" and "less corporate." Jack Murtha exudes down-to-earth true-blue red-blooded American values and that's who I want in a leadership position right now. I'm sure the powers that be can find Steny some good alternative roles but Murtha is the man for Majority Leader. On top of everything else, I have come to learn he has a good working relationship with Pelosi so all the better.
Tonight Speaker-presumtive Pelosi sent out a letter to all members of the Democratic caucus publicly backing Murtha. The Hill ran a piece already.
"Your strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq provides genuine leadership for our party, and I count on you to continue to lead on these vital issues," Pelosi wrote Murtha Sunday in a letter obtained by The Hill. "For this and for all you have done for Democrats in the past and especially this last year, I am pleased to support your candidacy for majority leader for the 110th Congress."
As the House Democrats' unchallenged leader [except by Heath Shuler], Pelosi has considerable sway over her colleagues. She and Murtha have long been close allies, but until now, she had not interfered in the majority leader race. [I asked her on the phone this week about the race and she said she wouldn't be taking sides.]
Her endorsement has the potential to turn the race, especially if she chooses to campaign on Murtha's behalf. Pelosi's decision to back Murtha is the most significant move she has made since Democrats scored a historic victory on Election Day.
Reacting to the letter, Hoyer said her support for Murtha was no surprise.
"Nancy told me some time ago that she would personally support Jack. I respect her decision as the two are very close," Hoyer said in a statement. "I am grateful for the support I have from my colleagues, and have the majority of the caucus supporting me. I look forward to working with Speaker Pelosi as Majority Leader."
Murtha thanked Pelosi for her support: "I am deeply gratified to receive the support of Speaker Pelosi, a tireless advocate for change and a true leader for our Party and our country."
In an interview on the C-SPAN program Newsmakers earlier this fall, Murtha said that Pelosi would determine who ultimately would become majority leader.
Asked at the time whether the "person who will win this [race] is the person who gets the tap on the shoulder" from Pelosi, Murtha said, "I think that's probably true... We have a close relationship but we'll see what happens."
Pelosi’s endorsement signals that she will likely not opt to resolve the majority leader race before Thursday’s scheduled elections. Some had lobbied her to negotiate an outcome in the same way she averted a fractious race between Reps. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) for majority whip.
The news may also reignite bitter divisions among House Democrats from the 2001 race for minority whip between Pelosi and Hoyer. Murtha served as Pelosi’s campaign manager in that race.
Pelosi prevailed over Hoyer 118-95, but only after a contentious battle that created fissures still notable today.
The letter came at the end of a day of intense campaigning by both Murtha and Hoyer as returning lawmakers and newly elected members arrived back in Washington for the first time since Nov. 7.
At the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) buttonholed Rep.-Elect Phil Hare (D-Ill.) at the hotel bar to urge him to support Murtha.
Later, Miller, Meek and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) descended on Rep.-Elect Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) with the same purpose. [He hasn't joined the GOP yet???]
Miller said Murtha's campaign was going well.
"We've been here before. We've seen this race," he said ominously, but declined to say whether he was likening the majority leader race to the 2001 whip race.
In spite of Miller's lobbying, Mahoney said he was sticking with Hoyer. "I'm going with Steny. He recruited me. He never wavered in his support for me," Mahoney said. [As long as he calls himself a Democrat, he's Rahm's bitch. And that "he recruited me" is just more proof that Rahm and Steny are joined at the hip.]
One Democrat supporting Hoyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said the letter signaled desperation in the Murtha camp.
"It appears to me that Murtha had to pull Nancy forward because he was behind in votes," the Democrat said. "This is not a surprise he was very important to her. [But] it’s a secret ballot and Steny has a lot of diverse support."
Pelosi's endorsement letter came in response to a written request from Murtha.
Murtha and Hoyer both held dueling receptions for newly elected members Sunday and sent care packages to their hotel rooms.
Many of my progressive friends, even some who were of the mind that neither candidate merited support, now feel that they have to back Murtha because if Pelosi loses this one, she'll look weak and that if Murtha loses it'll be bad for the people most serious about ending Bush's Iraq adventure asap. The race isn't all black and white though. At one time I hoped the two would deadlock and we'd get some kind of a White Knight come in the offer an alternative. That's not going to happen.
Hoyer has lined up some pretty impressive support, by the way, including progressive heroes like Barney Frank, Maxine Waters and Henry Waxman. His camp's claim to have it sewn up doesn't resonate with me for two reasons: it's a secret ballot and that whole tactic of creating an aura of inevitability is so Rahm/Schumer that it just reminds me that Hoyer is a total insider. Today when I asked him about finance reform and taking money from special interests he told me a folksy story about what a champion he's been for federal employees-- which is true-- and that he couldn't understand why they didn't all just donate $10 each to his campaign. Public financing didn't seem to ring his bell, at least not too loudly.
Murtha's voting record is abysmally reactionary-- almost Republican. DMI rates him a 63 (C). Hoyer gets a somewhat better C (75). Hoyer appears to be a moderate in a solidly blue district (57% Kerry, 57% Gore). Murtha has a tougher district for a Dem (51% Kerry, 55% Gore) and he's been a conservative. When you examine their respective records at Progressive Punch, you find Murtha's down towards where Democrats and Republicans meet. He's been almost as likely to vote with Republicans than with progressives. The 15 Democrats in the House who have voted with Republicans more than Murtha are all reactionary assholes, none even worthy of support for re-election. They do not support our basic values-- they vote a pro-corporate, anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-Church line and almost all of them are unreconstructed southerners. Murtha, on the other hand, has become a symbol for a principled and steadfast anti-Iraq War stand.
Hoyer's votes typify a real Blue Dog kind of record; he's right in the midst of the Ellen Tauschers and Steve Israels and Brad Shermans and Loretta Sanchezes-- the kinds of Democrats you hold your nose for when you vote-- and pray that next time there's a primary.
For me, the real problem with Hoyer is that he's part of the Rahm Emanuel machine in the caucus. When I brought that up on the phone with him today, he was aghast. That didn't stop me from bringing it up another dozen times. He seemed resentful at the idea of taking a backseat to Emanuel, who, after all, is still a congressional new kid on the block. Hoyer, who had been elected to the Maryland State Senate when he was 26, was already the President of that body-- fighting tenaciously for Civil Rights-- when Rahm was still in ballet school. He was elected to Congress in 1981, long before Rahm had even made up the story about losing a finger while fighting Syrians on the Golan Heights. Steny likes people to think of him as his own man. He thinks of himself that way. I wonder if Hastert ever did when DeLay installed him as Speaker (knowing full well it was not a role he could claim for himself).
I asked Steny about his role in sabotaging grassroots and progressive candidates. He said the electeds in DC have a right to back candidates who they feel are stronger challengers but he denied that he had called Democratic funders and asked them to stop donating money to Jan Schneider's campaign.
Meanwhile Rahm is
Like I said, most of my friends are lining up behind Murtha. I'm nervous that his ethical problems will prevent Democrats being strong on that crucial issue and that they'll lose whatever edge they have. And the idea of a Democratic Majority Leader being as reactionary as he is on social issues is too much for me to swallow. Like my friend Christy said, in a conference with other bloggers, "we cannot effect the outcome on this one, and there is no clear way to win with either candidate. Murtha's stand on Iraq was good, but his relationship with military contractors is not so clean. Hoyer is equally problematic. I think we are best served by making noises about committee chairs and leaving the majority leader arguments to the folks on the inside because, in this instance, fighting for either candidate in a really public way taints the person making the argument. I'm all for allowing either man a say, as well as any other candidate, but I'm not going to actively advocate for either of them. It's just not something I'd be comfortable doing, and I say that as someone who has written some admiring things about Murtha's stance and who understands the usefulness of Hoyer's contacts in D.C. I'm just not comfortable with either one of them on a number of levels."
Sums it up for me too, although it doesn't augur well for the Democrats that no matter what happens they're going to wind up with a tainted leadership team right off the bat. I can't wait to see who they put in as head of the Ethics Committee. I know it won't be William Jefferson or Alan Mollohan but let's hope it doesn't wind up going to another person compromised by a relationship with Emanuel.
Labels: Steny Hoyer