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November 17, 2006
All Eyes On Harman And Hastings

Nancy Pelosi managed to lose a major battle and a good portion of her prestige as Speaker before she even ascends to the position. Yesterday her caucus rebuffed her attempt to purge her longtime partner in caucus leadership, Steny Hoyer, based on personal animosities going back to the 2001 caucus leadership race -- which she won. Now the new Speaker may have to reconsider her other notorious exile threat, Jane Harman:

House Democrats chose Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland as their new majority leader on Thursday, rejecting the choice of the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and straining the unity of the new majority party.

In an indication that rank-and-file members would be willing to break from Ms. Pelosi, Democrats chose Mr. Hoyer over Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania by a decisive vote of 149 to 86. Mr. Hoyer overcame a concerted push by Ms. Pelosi on behalf of Mr. Murtha, a combat veteran who became an influential spokesman against the Iraq war. ...

Ms. Pelosi’s party problems are not all behind her, as she faces a tough decision on selecting a chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

On the one hand, she is under pressure from black lawmakers to promote a committee veteran, Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, a federal judge who was removed from the bench by Congress after a bribery charge in 1989, though he was acquitted in a criminal case. At the same time, some more conservative Democrats who supported Mr. Hoyer have been stepping up their campaign for Representative Jane Harman of California, who is the senior Democrat on the panel but has clashed with Ms. Pelosi.

The New York Times wants to bury the story of Harman and Hastings at the end of their report on the row, but the Los Angeles Times editorial board puts it front and center. Calling her support of Abscam-tainted Murtha "bizarre", the LAT editorial board scolds Pelosi for even considering Harman's ouster in favor of the only living impeached federal judge:

That embarrassing experience should induce Pelosi (D-San Francisco) — who appeared chastened before reporters Thursday — to reconsider another ill-advised promotion: Her apparent intention to bestow the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee not on the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), but on Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.).

Hastings, like Murtha, seems an unlikely choice for a leadership role in what Pelosi has been advertising as "the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history." Hastings was impeached as a federal judge and removed from office in the late 1980s (although he was acquitted of bribery in a criminal trial in 1983).

A litany of explanations have been adduced to explain why Pelosi would bypass Harman, an expert on intelligence matters who has won the respect of both parties while criticizing some of the Bush administration's excesses in the war on terror. None of them is persuasive. Harman has earned this chairmanship.

After the vote yesterday, almost every Democrat went out of their way to say that the election of Hoyer did not indicate any damage to Pelosi's standing in the caucus. However, that simply won't fly. Even the NYT understood the significance of the revolt against Pelosi's purge; it shows that the back benchers will not fear Pelosi or her ham-handed threats to strip them of committee assignments. For a caucus with a slender majority, this disunified start portends a season of difficult whips, especially since she's hardly invincible to revolt.

The caucus faces the same problem with the selection of Alcee Hastings as chair of the Intelligence committee, only worse. Murtha never got charged with bribery despite his failure to report the Abscam attempt to either the FBI or his own Ethics committee, and only the intervention of Tip O'Neill saved him from it. Hastings did not get so lucky. Although prosecutors failed to win a criminal conviction against Hastings, Congress impeached him of corruption and conspiracy charges, and the Senate removed him. He's the only living ex-judge removed from the bench by Congress, and Pelosi prefers him for the chair over Harman -- whose only crime, like Hoyer, is to have run afoul of Pelosi's wrath.

Democrats know that these decisions reflect on the entire caucus. Unlike the situation with Hoyer, they cannot directly affect the chair assignments. However, they will have to find a way to pressure Pelosi into reversing course on Harman. She's even lost the Los Angeles Times' editorial board, which takes some doing for a Democrat, and her continuing flacking for corrupt pols will mean electoral disaster in 2008.

UPDATE: She's also managed to lose the New York Times editorial board:

Nancy Pelosi has managed to severely scar her leadership even before taking up the gavel as the new speaker of the House. First, she played politics with the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee to settle an old score and a new debt. And then she put herself in a lose-lose position by trying to force a badly tarnished ally, Representative John Murtha, on the incoming Democratic Congress as majority leader. The party caucus put a decisive end to that gambit yesterday, giving the No. 2 job to Steny Hoyer, a longtime Pelosi rival.

But Ms. Pelosi’s damage to herself was already done. The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see — from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. The resurrected tape — feasted upon by Pelosi enemies — shows how Mr. Murtha narrowly survived as an unindicted co-conspirator, admittedly tempted but finally rebuffing a bribe offer: “I’m not interested — at this point.”

Mr. Murtha would have been a farcical presence in a leadership promising the cleanest Congress in history. Ms. Pelosi should have been first to realize this, having made such a fiery campaign sword of her vows to end Capitol corruption. Instead, she acted like some old-time precinct boss and lost the first test before her peers.

Will she still put personal debts and petty animosities above the security of the nation by selecting Alcee Hastings as Intel chair? If so, she'd better enjoy the majority while she still has it, because it won't last long.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 17, 2006 5:22 AM

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» Hope Springs Eternal from Haft of the Spear
NEWLY MINTED House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is off to a rocky start. On the same day she was formally elected to lead the new Democratic majority, party colleagues refused to endorse her bizarre choice of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), [Read More]

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