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Democrats Pick Hoyer for House Majority Leader

November 16, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: Shortly after noon today, 235 Democrats, soon to be the new majority in Congress, poured out of the caucus room of the Cannon House Office Building. They had just chosen a five-member team to lead them in the 110th Congress, and they looked relieved to be done with it.

Soon after, the new team emerged. California’s Nancy Pelosi, due to become speaker in January, was reelected leader by acclamation. So were James Clyburn, Rahm Emanuel and John Larsen, for the number-three, -four and -five posts.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), House of Representatives Speaker-Elect: What an honor it is to be nominated by my colleagues to be the speaker of the House.

MARGARET WARNER: But the drama centered on how Pelosi would handle the setback she’d just suffered at the hands of her caucus. Her colleagues had just chosen as majority leader — by a nearly two-to-one margin — Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, the current whip, over her endorsed candidate, Pennsylvania’s John Murtha.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: As you know, our colleagues chose our distinguished whip, Mr. Hoyer, to be the Democratic leader of the House. I extend great congratulations to him, and we will hear from him in a moment.

But before handing over to him the microphone, though, I want to acknowledge the magnificent contribution of Mr. Murtha to this debate on the war in Iraq. I thank him for his courage in stepping forward one year ago to speak truth to power, to change the debate in this country in a way that I think gave us this majority in this November.

MARGARET WARNER: Murtha, a former Marine, invigorated House Democrats last year with his public call to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), Pennsylvania: This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.

MARGARET WARNER: He decided to challenge Hoyer months ago. And in recent days, after Pelosi released a letter supporting Murtha, the campaign got rough.

Hoyer supporters said Murtha had ethics problems. They dredged up his involvement in the 1980s Abscam scandal, though he was never charged, and noted he’d helped kill a House Democrats ethics bill earlier this year.

Pelosi responded by intensely lobbying her colleagues, including many seeking her favor for choice committee assignments. Today, the two candidates insisted there were no hard feelings between them.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader-Elect: We have had differences, Jack Murtha and I. But Jack Murtha will continue to be one of the most significant leaders in the Congress of the United States as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

REP. JOHN MURTHA: And I congratulate Steny on his campaign. He ran a hell of a campaign, and I can’t fault anything that he did.

MARGARET WARNER: But it’s unclear what effect all this will have on the relationship and longstanding rivalry between Pelosi and her number-two, Hoyer.

REP. STENY HOYER: Nancy and I have worked together for four years, closely and effectively. And we have created the most unified caucus in the last half-century. Nancy and I, I think, have been a good team.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: As I said, Steny came out a big winner today. It was a stunning victory for him. We’ve had our debates, we’ve had our disagreements in that room, and now that is over. As I said to my colleagues, as we say in church, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with us.” Let the healing begin.

Nomination's effect on Pelosi

Rep. Barney Frank
(D) Mass.
Somebody said there's no hard feelings. Of course there's hard feelings. We're human beings....But I do not think there is the slightest indication that that will have any negative effect on our ability to function together.

MARGARET WARNER: At the end, for today at least, all the Democrats were all smiles.

And for more on the leadership battle and what effect it might now have on the new Democratic majority, we're joined by two Democrats. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, incoming chairman of the Financial Services Committee, he supported Steny Hoyer for majority leader.

And Jim Moran of Virginia, who serves with John Murtha on the Defense Appropriations Committee and helped manage his campaign for majority leader.

And welcome to you both.

This was Nancy Pelosi's first high-stakes, high-profile power play as speaker-to-be. And let me ask you this, Barney Frank: How serious a defeat is this for her?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), Massachusetts: Not at all. In the first place, it was not her first power play. Her first power play was a very successful one. I know only controversy makes news, but we had a potential controversy between Rahm Emanuel, who did a great job as the Democratic Congressional Campaign chairman, and Jim Clyburn, our caucus chairman.

She worked out a deal whereby Jim became the whip, the number three, an African-American very important in an elected leadership position, only the second time in history that's happened, and Rahm became caucus chair.

We had this fight. But, you know, the key point is this: Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, as was just mentioned, have worked together as number-one and number-two on the Democratic side for four years. There is zero, zero evidence that any friction between them -- and there may be friction -- but it's irrelevant to me, because I don't have to go to dinner with the two of them, and there is zero evidence that in any way interfered.

We have had been the most effectively unified caucus in some time. So I would disagree with a little bit -- somebody said there's no hard feelings. Of course there's hard feelings. We're human beings. You run against each other, you beat each other over the head, you have hard feelings. But I do not think there is the slightest indication that that will have any negative effect on our ability to function together.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Moran, how do you see it? Do you think this undercuts her authority at all?

REP. JIM MORAN (D), Virginia: No, not at all, and I happen to agree with Barney. You know, we just concluded our business; now it's time to get about the people's business.

And we have an excellent team that is going to devote themselves full-time to achieving the agenda that we feel we were elected to go after. The minimum wage needs to be increased. Prescription drugs need to be more affordable. We need to make this country safer. College costs are much too expensive. We've got to cut interest rates in half; we've got to make college costs deductible.

Any number of things that we can achieve, I think we can achieve even in a bipartisan manner. And that's what we're focused on now. This is behind us. It's time to move forward, and Steny certainly worked hard enough to be deserving of majority leader, and I congratulate him.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, tell me this, Congressman Moran, why did she do it? Because there were many Democrats really shaking their heads, not so much just that she wrote the letter for him, but that she really put herself on the line to try to get him this job. Why'd she do it?

REP. JIM MORAN: You know, the mark of a great leader is loyalty. She has had a longstanding relationship with Jack. She has full trust and confidence in him.

I suppose she would have been more comfortable with him as her majority leader, and the second issue was the Iraq war. And her position is more consistent with Jack's on that. But I think both she and Steny are going to work it out.

The caucus has spoken. They're going to work together to achieve the people's business, as I say. And, you know, I don't think there's any diminution of her authority, of her ability to lead, not just the Democratic caucus and, in fact, the Congress, but this nation.

So it's fine. I think we've probably made a little too much of the contest itself, and it's behind us.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: Can I say I think, frankly, in an odd way -- not in an odd way -- she's actually been strengthened, because people have genuine respect and affection for Nancy Pelosi. She's been a superb leader, the most important woman elected to office in American political history as the speaker, number three in line for the presidency. A lot of us wish she was number one pretty quick, but it ain't going to happen.

But the fact is that members, including myself, reluctantly opposed her because she's been an excellent leader. And she was an excellent leader in the House; she was an excellent leader in the campaign. But we want a strong leader.

And I think, frankly, what you're going to see is a lot of us who felt for various reasons that we couldn't agree with her in this case, we're going to really make sure that we show that there were no hard feelings. And I think, frankly, there are going to be people who say, "Well, you know, I couldn't be with Nancy Pelosi on this one, but I want to make sure that she knows that I'm fully supportive."

And there is no question in my mind this will have zero negative impact and in some ways she'll be strengthened, because people will want to say, "Look, we want to make sure that all those people in the press who think that our House has fallen apart were wrong." And we like to prove you guys wrong.

REP. JIM MORAN: She is strong...

Iraq and the nomination

Rep. Jim Moran
(D) Va.
The fact is that Steny has worked for this position for over four years. Jack decided he wanted to run for majority leader about six months ago, largely on the basis of the war.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you, Congressman, though, you are quoted -- Congressman Moran -- quoted today as saying that, in fact, some of the incoming freshmen who voted for Hoyer may have trouble getting the committee assignments they wanted. Did you say that?

REP. JIM MORAN: No, that's not what I said, no. I said that there are about 20 freshmen that seem to think they're going to get on appropriations, and that's not going to happen. That wouldn't happen with any class of freshmen no matter what the circumstances.

But I do agree with Barney. The fact is that many of the men in this institution, when they thought they might have a chance of losing, they would have backed off. Nancy never backed off. When she was asked, "Do you have any regrets?" She said, "Absolutely not. Jack's my friend. I stuck with him."

And, you know, we respect that. I think all the members on both sides respect that. My guess is that she's going to emerge from this even stronger, and she'll be able to work with Steny very well.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Congressman Moran, do you think that the result of this, though, is going to be -- how do you think Americans should read this? Do you think that the fact that Murtha lost and Hoyer won said anything larger about either where the caucus is on ethics reform or on the Iraq war?

REP. JIM MORAN: No, I really don't think that. The fact is that Steny has worked for this position for over four years. Jack decided he wanted to run for majority leader about six months ago, largely on the basis of the war.

But Steny has prepared himself for a long time. He was out all over the country for over a year recruiting candidates. You know, that's really why he did as well as he did. He knew what he wanted, and I think the members respect that.

I don't think anyone should read anything more into this than the fact that, you know, we have a good team, it's a balanced team. It represents the diversity of America, and it's time to move forward.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: Can I just say, I think, in fact, it shows -- I basically agree with Jim, and I would say this. Even though Jack lost and he was the candidate mostly identified with getting out of Iraq, it showed the power of that issue.

Frankly, if it hadn't been for the Iraq issue, if it hadn't been for Jack feeling so revolted by what he sees, how badly this is being done, the military and institution he loves being so degraded by this, there never would have been a race. In other words, it was only Iraq that propelled someone like Jack Murtha to get into the race.

And, yes, he lost. You know, look, we are incumbents by definition, and in essence Steny was the incumbent. And incumbents generally don't like intra-party fights against other incumbents. Issues tend not to be a major thing when members are kind of relating to each other personally.

But the fact is that it's Nancy Pelosi's fierce opposition to the war and Jack's position, that's why there was an issue in the first place. If it hadn't been for the war, it would have been a unanimous thing for Steny. And the fact that Jack didn't win does not mean any less opposition to this mistaken war that is being so badly mishandled by this administration.

REP. JIM MORAN: And I happen to totally agree with Barney. If it hadn't been for the war, Steny never would have been challenged and there never would have been an issue. And now we move forward, and we're going to change the course in Iraq. There's no question about it.

Democrats' consensus on Iraq

Rep. Barney Frank
(D) Mass.
It is clear that overwhelmingly Democrats believe -- some of us voted against the war, as I did, some voted for it -- but Democrats now believe that this war is now doing us more harm than good. There is agreement on that.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, but let me ask you both -- and I know you're having this wonderful love-fest. But on...

REP. JIM MORAN: Well, we do like each other.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: I know you like fighting, but...

MARGARET WARNER: We do. We do like fighting.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: People should turn to the ultimate fighting channel. We just don't have...

MARGARET WARNER: We're not the ultimate fighting channel, but let me ask you about Iraq.

REP. JIM MORAN: We've fought enough. We've been fighting for the last couple of weeks.

MARGARET WARNER: In all seriousness, there is a difference between the positions of these two candidates on what to do about Iraq.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: Yes, but...

MARGARET WARNER: And just let me clarify that for the viewers. Congressman Murtha has talked about a pretty quick withdrawal of U.S. forces. Steny Hoyer has taken a more measured, moderate, whatever phrase you want to use approach, but he talks about phased redeployment. Where do you think the majority of the caucus is, the Democratic caucus is, on that distinction?

REP. BARNEY FRANK: I'd like to respond to that. In the interest -- and this may sound odd to some extent -- I don't know for sure for this reason. You cannot run foreign policy from the legislative branch. What you can do is to express the general tendency.

And it is clear that overwhelmingly Democrats believe -- some of us voted against the war, as I did, some voted for it -- but Democrats now believe that this war is now doing us more harm than good. There is agreement on that.

There is disagreement on how best to disengage. There's a sharp difference between the Democrats saying, "This is being so badly handled that it's doing more harm than good," and the president saying, "Well, but we want to keep going."

Now, there are differences about how you get out of there. At this point, frankly, they're not terribly relevant, because when you're in the legislative position, you're not able, frankly, to do the details.

I mean, how do you get out? Well, that's a much more specific set of negotiations, et cetera. But you have an overwhelming Democratic consensus that they have so badly messed this up that we should be getting out.

REP. JIM MORAN: Margaret...

Resolving differences

Rep. Jim Moran
(D) Va.
The irony here is that Jack [Murtha] is in an even more pivotal position to achieve his objective vis-a-vis Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Jim Moran, let me just say, do you see it that way, that the Democrats never have to resolve their own differences about what the way forward is, even though they're now in the majority?

REP. JIM MORAN: Well, that's exactly what Barney was saying, but the irony is that now Jack Murtha is chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee. That is the one committee that can at least change the course in Iraq.

We have a supplemental that's -- the administration is going to send up about $60 billion, primarily for Iraq. Jack Murtha is going to manage that bill, and I can assure you the administration is not going to get what they want.

They may get that amount of money -- and we're not going to endanger any troops -- but we will use that vehicle to start changing the course in Iraq. And Jack Murtha is going to be the one driving that engine. So the irony here is that Jack is in an even more pivotal position to achieve his objective vis-a-vis Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: And, gentlemen, on that happy note, we are over time.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: We cannot come to an absolute agreement because we're not in power in the executive branch, but we're going to keep pushing to get out.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, terrific. Congressman Frank, Congressman Moran, thank you both.

REP. JIM MORAN: Good to be with you, Margaret.