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November 14, 2006
Pelosi's Unforced Error

Nancy Pelosi has won few plaudits for her first major decision as presumptive Speaker of the 110th Session of Congress. Throwing her support to John Murtha over Steny Hoyer has caused an eruption of criticism and indignation from within her own political coalition, who wonder how a party leader could campaign against corruption and then support one of the biggest porkers in Congress for a leadership position. Rather than attract support for passing over Hoyer, Pelosi has inspired public opposition to her decision -- the latest from Charles Rangel, her choice to chair the Ways and Means Committee:

Some of Mr. Hoyer's backers in New York are asking why the likely new speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, has endorsed Mr. Murtha rather than the Maryland congressman, who is the minority whip and the second-ranking Democrat.

Rep. Charles Rangel of Harlem, who called Mr. Murtha "a friend" and received support from him in 2004 in his push for the reinstitution of a military draft, said yesterday that Mr. Murtha would make a good majority leader. But Mr. Rangel is going to vote for Mr. Hoyer.

"My kind of politics is, if you do your job, you are supposed to be rewarded," Mr. Rangel, who was one of 105 co-sponsors of Mr. Murtha's resolution to redeploy American troops in the Middle East in 2005, said. "I think Steny has done his job. I cannot think of any reason why this is happening."

We saw the seeds of this split five months before the election, when Murtha first announced his candidacy for the Majority Leader position. At the time, we noted Pelosi's impotence in controlling her caucus and wondered whether it would doom her leadership. That, however, was when she made the wise decision to remain neutral on the question of leadership positions in the next Congress, a wisdom that has escaped her in the past week.

Rangel is, in fact, correct -- a statement rare at CQ. Just as the Republicans are foolish for supporting the same leadership that led them to electoral disaster, the Democrats have no real reason to switch horses after such a significant victory. Murtha hardly needs the title in any case -- given his track record at Appropriations, chairing the committee will provide him all of the power he could ever want. If the Democrats punish Hoyer for his success, as Rangel notes, then why would anyone bother making the effort if all of the power will go to Pelosi's cronies as a result?

Pelosi made an unforced error on this question. The decisions on leadership reflect directly on the fitness of a Speaker, and her decision to involve herself in the party selections puts this as a test of her support within the caucus. While it's not exactly a no-confidence vote, legitimate question will be asked of her ability to manage a potentially fractious caucus if Murtha loses. Whipping votes by nature involves the threat of leadership displeasure, and if Pelosi proves herself impotent on this question, that threat looks increasingly empty.

When Murtha shivved Hoyer in June with his announcement, we noted the hubris of Democrats squabbling over leadership positions that they had not yet earned. Now we see the hubris of a Speaker-elect who thought she could re-order her political caucus without considering the views of other members. She's already less than popular with the Congressional Black Caucus (which also may explain the decision by Rangel and Maxine Waters to support Hoyer), and she can hardly afford to alienate many more Democrats if she expects to win election as Speaker.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 14, 2006 6:05 AM

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