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Pelosi's Murtha Gamble

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) surprise decision to endorse Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) over Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in the upcoming Majority Leader's race presents considerable risks and rewards for the early days of her speakership.

The announcement, which was made public late last night, sent a shockwave through the race. Hoyer was widely seen as the favorite in the race, but Pelosi's endorsement left neutral observers wondering whether she knows something they don't.

In her official statement, Pelosi cited Murtha's "strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq" as the reason for her endorsement. Murtha, as anyone paying attention to American politics knows, made huge news late last year when he announced his support for an immediate redeployment of American troops from Iraq. Pelosi quickly followed Murtha's lead -- a decision that drew strong criticism from some within the Democratic party.

On other major issues, however, Pelosi and Murtha part ways. She favors abortion rights, he opposes them. She favors gun control, he opposes attempts to impose limits on gun ownership.

Putting policy aside, Pelosi and Murtha are close personally -- he managed her Minority Whip race in 2001 and her election to Minority Leader in 2002.

Hoyer noted that relationship in his response to the news. "Nancy told me some time ago that she would personally support Jack," said Hoyer. "I respect her decision as the two are very close." Hoyer and Pelosi, on the other hand, are more often rivals than allies -- an antagonism dating back (at least) to 2002 when Pelosi defeated Hoyer for the Whip position.

Should Murtha win the majority leader post, Pelosi would emerge emboldened, having hand-selected her leadership team and shown the importance of longtime loyalty in her decision-making process.

A Murtha loss, especially by a wide margin, could cripple Pelosi.

On a practical level, a Hoyer victory would ensure a less-than-stellar working relationship between the top two Democrats in the House. While Pelosi and Hoyer would dismiss any lingering resentments, it's unfathomable that tension would not exist.

On a more symbolic level, a Murtha loss would raise serious questions about Pelosi's political acumen -- questions she had largely put to rest in the runup to the 2006 election. Betting very publicly on the losing candidate sends a signal of weakness, not strength, to the Democratic caucus and would likely re-ignite worries that she is too beholden to the liberal wing of the party. (Remember that 22 of the 41 incoming freshmen have already endorsed Hoyer for Majority Leader and allies of the Maryland Congressman insist more incoming lawmakers have privately promised him their support.)

Pelosi's move is a calculated gamble to strengthen her grasp on her party before the 110th Congress even begins. Like any gamble, it has the potential to backfire -- leaving her weakened before she is even officially sworn into her new post. We'll find out on Thursday whether Pelosi's "all-in" gambit pays off.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 13, 2006; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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Comments

DKinUT,

I'm quite convinced that Pelosi decided to get this favor out of the way as quickly as possible. In a week, no one will care about this, assuming Hoyer wins. If Murtha does pull it off, he'll be that much closer to the microscope. He's not my preference, and to KOZ, no he's not what I voted for but no party is pure, maybe just a lesser of evils. Steny's no saint either, but she's got to show the rest of the House Dem's she'll support loyalty. Again, I think this is much ado about nothing. Enough on this subject.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 14, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse

DKinUT, I would agree with your position IF Murtha was running for whip.... good place for him and maybe where Pelosi really wants him. By not backing him for ML he might not "carry her water" as Limbaugh now famously says.

Hoyer evidently is more moderate which is where the country wants to be. There are rumblings that Pelosi may hurt her chances for leadership by backing Murtha.... don't think the Dems will really slap their female "icon" in the face though.

Thursday's outcome will be interesting and may say everything about the shape of things to come.

http://whathappenedtomycountry.blogspot.com


Posted by: Truth Hunter | November 14, 2006 10:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm curious if anybody has considered whether Pelosi, way back then when she was running for Whip (and since) might not have simply surveyed the land and, being the savvy person she is, realized that to get somewhere she was going to have to enlist help. Who do you enlist? The guy that can beg,steal,or buy you votes. That would be Murtha. Perhaps her payment is to support him. I can't believe that she actually WANTS a guy who disagrees with her positions on many issues.

Posted by: DKinUT | November 14, 2006 5:22 AM | Report abuse

Regardless of Pelosi's political calculations and possible "understandings" with Hoyer, I don't see the wisdom in supporting Murtha.

As the NY Times article of October 2 pointed out, Murtha is far from a loyal Democrat:
"In the last year, Democratic and Republican floor watchers say, Mr. Murtha has helped Republicans round up enough Democratic votes to narrowly block a host of Democratic proposals: to investigate federal contracting fraud in Iraq, to reform lobbying laws, to increase financing for flood control, to add $150 million for veterans' health care and job training, and to exempt middle-class families from the alternative minimum tax."

"He has sided with Republicans 169 times on close votes since 1994, more often than all but three of the most conservative Democrats."

Pelosi publically supports this man serving as majority leader? A Representative who raises ethical questions and voted against some of the very legislation Pelosi has promised to pass in the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress?

It sounds like a big mistake to me.

Posted by: Andy | November 14, 2006 1:54 AM | Report abuse

And Bill we agree. The american people are waiting to see if this Democratic Congress is not a bunch of prostitutes, like the Republicans have been.

Posted by: Richard Katz | November 14, 2006 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Talking about Duke's millions. Wait until they start investigating the illegal sole sourcing of contracts to Halliburton and other Iraq contracting arrangements. I would not be surprised if Dick Cheney and his boys stole Billions. Nothing like a congressional subpoena. And as far as what the american people want: we want justice.

Posted by: Richard Katz | November 14, 2006 12:33 AM | Report abuse

Cillizza, Mike Allen at Time, CNN, all running with the same "Democrats Divided" line. For having a leadership election. And because Pelosi did a courtesy for an old friend. Hoyer comes out with a very mild letter ("We knew this already. No biggie.") and that's supposed to be a bitter fued.

Come on, there is real news out there. This is junk.

Posted by: Mike G | November 13, 2006 11:44 PM | Report abuse

>>But, really, 99% of the public couldn't care less who runs for Leader.<<

Completely disagree. At this moment the eye of a cynical and bitter public is focused, just waiting for evidence that this bunch is no better that the last. This could define.

Posted by: bill | November 13, 2006 10:35 PM | Report abuse

>>But, really, 99% of the public couldn't care less who runs for Leader.<<

Completely disagree. At this moment the eye of a cynical and bitter public is focused, just waiting for evidence that this bunch is no better that the last. This could define.

Posted by: bill | November 13, 2006 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Prelosi's letter comes after votes have firmed up. I think Hoyer will win. Nancy keeps a promise, she doesn't piss Murtha off and Hoyer wins anyway. If he doesn't, does he become some kind of Nemesis, haunting Pelosi in the hallways of the House? I don't think so.

So far the loudest critic of this business is CREW, who have jumped the gun.

If there is a risk, it is that Murtha's ethical deficits get attention at a bad time. But, really, 99% of the public couldn't care less who runs for Leader.

Posted by: nrglaw | November 13, 2006 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Boy some of you guy's can't get over it.
50k to Duke's millions?

Posted by: stopwiththekicking | November 13, 2006 8:48 PM | Report abuse

ylepink:

Interesting point.

Posted by: Richard Katz | November 13, 2006 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Look for the House Vampire Caucus to revive all those old "Bella Pelosi" jokes if Steny makes good.

With Soros paying the bill ...

Posted by: Joshua S Rubenstein | November 13, 2006 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Off the subject a bit, evidently Rudy G. has filed papers to form an exploratory committee for a possible presidential bid.

Interesting.....

Posted by: Truth Hunter | November 13, 2006 6:11 PM | Report abuse

My two cents... Nancy Pelosi is a savvy lady. She probably figures openly supporting Murtha, and staying in his good graces, is better than snubbing him and having a "spurned" enemy. Wouldn't be surprised if she and Hoyer already have an understanding.

If half of what is said about Murtha in today's comments is true, he's radio active. But, what the public knows about him is that he came our against the war early, before it was popular.

So, Nancy will have it both ways. Public support for a pull-out-of-Iraq icon... so win or lose he's now indebted to her. To the public she's on the right side of the important issue.... Iraq. Smart.

http://whathappenedtomycountry.blogspot.com

Posted by: Truth Hunter | November 13, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Something in my stomach doesnt feel as it should and I am wondering if it is getting that old "Gut Feelin" that comes around sometimes. From the comments I can see the Pelosi bashers are out in full force, not unlike prior to the election a week ago. Seems so strange or does it really?

Posted by: lylepink | November 13, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse

A very small part of the pundit discussions weeks before the election was the possibility of a Hoyer vs. Murtha decision for Pelosi. Each time the prediction was Murtha, because Pelosi really doesn't like Hoyer, and Murtha had worked "with" her for years.

This weekend one of the talking heads said that it goes back decades as part of Maryland politics.

Posted by: Nor'Easter | November 13, 2006 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Bad beginning if it is a launcher to the next Presidential elections. Probably most of the people want to see these two years a working Congress to be enough trusted. Ethic is important.

Posted by: What_Crisis | November 13, 2006 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the war policy needs to be reviewed and altered, but I don't think putting ole Abscam Murtha out there as the face of this movement is going to move the populace in that general direction.

and then there's still dirty Harry Reid to contend with. From today's LA times, not the most conservative apper in the country:
"Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vows to make reform of congressional earmarks a priority of his tenure, arguing that members need to be more transparent when they load pet projects for their districts into federal spending bills. But last year's huge $286-billion federal transportation bill included a little-noticed slice of pork pushed by Reid that provided benefits not only for the casino town of Laughlin, Nev., but also, possibly, for the senator himself."

Is he so upset at not being a filthy millionaire like the rest of the club?

Posted by: kingofzouk | November 13, 2006 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I think Chris Cilizza should in all fairness put a similar post about the Republican leadership contest since there is a three way contest there that I think will have a longer-lasting impact than the Democratic one.

Posted by: Jason | November 13, 2006 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Wow! Hard game to begin. Does Ms. Pelosi understand what people do not want? Neither King nor Queen choosing her own ministers and officials. We know. Iraq is a hot potato needing still a deep analysis even among Dems.

Posted by: What_Crisis (Correction) | November 13, 2006 5:24 PM | Report abuse

As Bush has shown, you can LOSE an election and still act like you have a mandate. Get over trying to infer anything at all about the results of an election actually constraining the behavior of the majority party.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | November 13, 2006 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Is it implausible that Pelosi is fully aware that Hoyer will win, and is giving Murtha support to pay off her personal debt to him? And in so doing, ensures that once she is Speaker, she won't recieve too much trouble from him, as they are still personally loyal to one another? And if Hoyer was, apparently, fully aware of this some time ago, then there's no hard feelings there either?

Or?

Posted by: Jim | November 13, 2006 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Wow! Hard game to begin. Does Ms. Pelosi understand what people do not want? Neither King nor Queen.

Posted by: What_Crisis | November 13, 2006 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Judge C. Crater and BlueDog and a couple other posters who expressed similar opinions on this are exactly right and explained it very well, Chris Cilizza is greatly exagerrating the rivalry between Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi, just trying to stir up something--he knows better than that. I just wish he'd say the same thing about the Republicans vying for minority leader (Boehner, Pence, and Barton) because I think there will be more of a rivalry there because their party just lost.

Posted by: Jason | November 13, 2006 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Give 'em hell, Nancy! I'm really very sick of the "she's too far left and liberal" comments. As far as I'm concerned, the congress has been run (very badly) by a corrupt bunch of WAY too far-right wackos for years so now let's see what happens when the reality-based crowd takes over!

This post has an distinct air of "let's try to stir the sh*t and cook up a conflict" where there is none .

Posted by: maria in SF | November 13, 2006 5:05 PM | Report abuse

KOZ,

Before I run for the night, wasn't Murtha's defense later was that he was trying to "setup" the "bribers"? I don't remember the details, but it was some lame a** excuse like that.

Later.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Nate says, "because they didn't run with any proposals, there's no mandate for change on a single issue."

Really? So your logic is the voters rejected the Republican agenda but don't want anything to change? They don't want a new direction in Iraq? They don't want campaign reform? They don't want minimum wage increases? They don't want a better Prescription Drug package? They don't want immigration reform? That's a crock and you know it. Of course the voters wanted change, and they chose to take a chance that change will come with a Democratic Congress. Now, if you're saying "the Dem's didn't win, the Repubs lost so don't get carried away", I can kinda agree with that, but a win is a win is a win and I'll take it anyway I can get it.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

culture of corruption under new management:

An article from the August 6, 1980, Washington Post, inexplicably unavailable on LexisNexis, fills in some of the gaps. Written by Jack Anderson, the sometimes controversial yet Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative columnist, the article details Murtha's conversation with the investigators and sheds further light on his status as an unindicted co-conspirator. Anderson's reporter, Gary Cohn, apparently reviewed the tapes.

Anderson framed Murtha's performance as "perhaps the saddest scene on the secret Abscam videotapes.... He refused to take the money, but his reason was hardly noble." The column continued:


"I want to deal with you guys awhile before I make any transactions at all, period.... After we've done some business, well, then I might change my mind...."

..."I'm going to tell you this. If anybody can do it -- I'm not B.S.-ing you fellows -- I can get it done my way." he boasted. "There's no question about it."...

But the reluctant Murtha wouldn't touch the $50,000. Here on secret videotape was this all-American hero, tall and dignified in a disheveled way, explaining why he wasn't quite ready to accept the cash.

"All at once," he said, "some dumb [expletive deleted] would go start talking eight years from now about this whole thing and say [expletive deleted], this happened. Then in order to get immunity so he doesn't go to jail, he starts talking and fingering people. So the [S.O.B.] falls apart."...

"You give us the banks where you want the money deposited," offered one of the bagmen.

"All right," agreed Murtha. "How much money we talking about?"

"Well, you tell me."

"Well, let me find out what is a reasonable figure that will get their attention," said Murtha, "because there are a couple of banks that have really done me some favors in the past, and I'd like to put some money in....["]

The dialogue continued as follows:

Amoroso: Let me ask you now that we're together. I was under the impression, OK, and I told Howard [middleman Howard Criden] what we were willing to pay, and [This is where the available videotape begins]I went out, I got the $50,000. OK? So what you're telling me, OK, you're telling me that that's not what you know....

Murtha: I'm not interested.

Amoroso: OK.

Murtha: At this point, [This is where the available videotape ends] you know, we do business together for a while. Maybe I'll be interested and maybe I won't.... Right now, I'm not interested in those other things. Now, I won't say that some day, you know, I, if you made an offer, it may be I would change my mind some day.

It is damning stuff. But the mainstream media has yet to question Murtha aggressively about that short snippet of tape, much less the full reel.

and this is what you all voted for?

Posted by: kingofzouk | November 13, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

BD,

Don't jump the gun there. Murtha's name is listed as a "To Watch" name. Yeah, and he should be watched for the reasons stated above, he's an "old school" player. He learned from his ABSCAM experience, but also still knows how to play hardball. There was smoke, none now, but it doesn't hurt to make sure regularly. Murtha's not stupid, nor sophisticated. He tends to bull his way through or bully his way around.

As for Pelosi being Speaker long, yes, just as long as she wants it and the Dem's are in power. Look out for Nancy folks, she's a real tough lady. I first met her in 1989 when she was still pretty much a rookie running around with Barbara Boxer. She didn't take crap from anyone then, and she won't now. She's got years of political experience many pols never get. Obviously, she can lose the Speakership if she makes an ethical mistake, but I don't see it.

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I think Chris is grounded more solidly on the issue than many of his detractors posting comments here.

Democrat candidates beat Republican candidates in races all over the country last Tuesday. Unlike the 1994 swap, I'm not getting the impression that the country voted for the Democratic leadership, and, because they didn't run with any proposals, there's no mandate for change on a single issue. From what I've read, it seems like Dems need to muzzle their liberal wing if they want to keep their status after '08.

I don't think it would take too much for Pelosi to be replaced as the speaker, and this endorsement isn't helping her with the new House Dems holding Republican districts.

Posted by: Nate | November 13, 2006 4:30 PM | Report abuse

note who is # 2 from the bottom of the "most corrupt" list http://www.citizensforethics.org/activities/campaign.php?view=150

Posted by: BD | November 13, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Chris, please.

"A Murtha loss, especially by a wide margin, could cripple Pelosi."

"a less-than-stellar working relationship between the top two Democrats in the House"

"it's unfathomable that tension would not exist."

"a Murtha loss would raise serious questions about Pelosi's political acumen"

"Pelosi's move is a calculated gamble...it has the potential to backfire -- leaving her weakenedz"

Methinks thou art stirring up trouble. Pelosi's doing nothing more than paying off chits. She owes Murtha, he demands payment, she writes a letter, he gets to publicize it. She also knows the majority leader vote is done in STRICT CONFIDENTIALITY and, from what I hear, fully expects Hoyer to win. Murtha will then get his Committee chair and can't say Nancy didn't support him.

Hoyer's relationship with Pelosi is cool but professional. He has a couple of staffers that whine about her, and she has a couple that whine about Hoyer. Everyone knows Hoyer wants to be Speaker and short of a Pelosi "scandal" his best bet is to help the party stay in power. If the Dem's lose the House in 08, he and Pelosi will both step down or get booted from leadership so he'll play ball nice.

This is the second "Much ado about nothing" story today. Slow weekend?

Posted by: BlueDog | November 13, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone really expect Ms. Pelosi to be a long term speaker? My guess is she gets the position (because not to get it at this point would look somehow as an anti-women act by the democrats)but is voted out within 2 years. She is too far to the left for the majority of her members and will not be able to keep them in line.

Posted by: Question | November 13, 2006 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone really expect Ms. Pelosi to be a long term speaker? My guess is she gets the position (because not to get it at this point would look somehow as an anti-women act by the democrats)but is voted out within 2 years. She is too far to the left for the majority of her members and will not be able to keep them in line.

Posted by: Question | November 13, 2006 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Off Topic (SOT)

I have done an analysis of the polling done in the major races for US House, US Senate and Governors leading up to the mid-terms.

This does not include some House races still to be decided.

This takes into account the final published poll by a firm, in the final month of the campaign season.

Losses are awarded 0 points. Any ties in the final poll were also awarded 0 points.

RMill scoring system-
Call of the race= 1 pt
Call of the margin of victory= 3 pts; 1 pt if within margin of error (+/-3% pts)
Call of the candidate vote %= 3 pts; 1 pt if within margin of error (+/- 3% pts)
Quality Pick= 4 pts or more

285 polls were analyzed
A total of 750 points were accumulated, with an average of 2.63.

There were 58 missed calls (20.35%) and 94 quality picks (32.98%)

IVR
Survey USA- 32 polls; 93 pts; 2.91 avg; 4 misses (12.5%) and 11 Quality picks (34.38%)
Rasmussen- 28 polls; 90 pts; 3.22 avg; 5 misses (17.86%) and 13 quality picks (46.43%)
RT Strategies/Consitiuent Dynamics- 41 polls; 89 pts; 2.17 avg; 14 misses (34.15%) and 14 Quality picks (34.15%)
Note: These were all congressional house races, which are statistically more difficult than statewide races

IVR Firms- 101 polls; 272 pts; 2.69 avg; 23 misses (23%); 38 Quality pick (38%)

Traditional Call Polls
Mason Dixon- 24 polls; 64 pts; 2.67 avg; 4 misses (16.67%) and 10 Quality picks (46.67%)
Research 2000- 21 polls; 51 pts; 2.43 avg; 4 misses (19.05%) and 6 Quality picks (28.57%)
Quinnipiac- 6 polls; 22 pts; 3.67 avg; 0 misses (0%) and 2 Quality picks (33.33%)
Most major news orgs (CNN, Reuters, WaPost, NY Times, LA Times, etc.)
Reuters/Zogby- 23 polls; 67 pts; 2.91 avg; 4 misses (17.39%) and 10 Quality picks(43.48%)
CNN- 6 polls; 24 pts; 4.0 avg; 1 miss (16.67%) and 4 Quality picks (66.67%)
USA Today/Gallup- 7 polls; 22 pts; 3.14 avg; 1 miss (14.29%) and 3 Quality picks(42.86%)
LA Times- 4 polls; 10 pts; 2.5 avg; 1 miss (25%) and 1 Quality pick (25%)
CBS/NY Times- 2 polls; 3 pts; 1.5 avg; 0 miss and quality picks
Washington Post- 3 polls; 10 pts; 3.33 avg; 1 miss (33.33%) and 1 Quality pick (33.33%)

Trad Call Firms- 96 polls, 263 pts; 2.74 avg; 16 misses (17%)and 37 Quality Picks (39%)

On-line
Zogby Interactive- 25 polls; 60 pts; 2.40 avg; 7 misses (28%) and 5 Quality picks (25%)

All others- 63 polls; 145 pts; 2.30 avg; 11 misses (17.46%) and 14 Quality picks (22.22%)

Many of these include smaller regional firms, local news outlets, etc. They use a variety of methods, including mail-ins.

Posted by: RMill | November 13, 2006 4:10 PM | Report abuse

**Betting very publicly on the losing candidate [Murtha] would likely re-ignite worries that she is too beholden to the liberal wing of the party.** Pardon me but that sounds like Murtha is associated with the liberal wing of the party. And you get paid to write this stuff!

Posted by: xango | November 13, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

**Betting very publicly on the losing candidate [Murtha]would likely re-ignite worries that she is too beholden to the liberal wing of the party.** Pardon me but that sounds like Murtha is associated with the liberal wing of the party. And you get paid to write this stuff!

Posted by: xango | November 13, 2006 4:08 PM | Report abuse

**Betting very publicly on the losing candidate [Murtha]would likely re-ignite worries that she is too beholden to the liberal wing of the party.** Pardon me but that sounds like Murtha is associated with the liberal wing of the party. And you get paid to write this stuff!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2006 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I think it would look better if Pelosi stood on principle rather than for rewarding political horse-trading. "Meet the the new boss, same as the old boss"

Posted by: BD | November 13, 2006 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it appear even worse if she had not endorsed anybody or in fact had endorsed Hoyer, given her close connection, both personal and professional, to Murtha? She had no choice but to come out in favor of Murtha, or else she would like she does not support those who have supported her in the past. Plus, all of this talk that this decision may or may not cripple her leadership is just inside the beltway talk. It has nothing to do with how members will view her leadership--she will be the freaking Speaker of the House! I think both Murtha and Hoyer have tremendous support from many different sides of the party, and ultimately Hoyer will win because he has the most votes. And Pelosi knows this, that's why she had to endorse Murtha, to show that she supports her previous backers.

Posted by: JD | November 13, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like a lot of Republicans don't want Murtha picked as Majority Leader. That makes him an excellent candidate!

(Actually, I'm not a huge Murtha supporter because he strikes me as less than intellectual.)

I think this is a non-story, Hoyer will win out and we all move on.

Posted by: Venicemenace | November 13, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

more money quotes

Mr. Murtha can punish lawmakers, as well. Those who do not support the defense spending bill, for example, discover their next earmark requests go nowhere. "Let me tell you the facts of life," Mr. Murtha said he tells balky legislators. "If you vote against this bill, you won't have any input at all the next time."

Earmarks -- often buried deep in complex bills by unidentified lawmakers -- have come under new scrutiny since the conviction last fall of Representative Randy Cunningham, a California Republican on the defense-spending panel who accepted more than $2.4 million in bribes from contractors. The cost of earmarks has tripled in the last decade to about $64 billion a year, according to the Congressional Research Service. Mr. Murtha and other lawmakers say many earmarks are worthwhile, but critics charge that they waste taxpayers' money, encourage cronyism and foster self-dealing.

Some members of Congress complain that earmarks corrupt lawmaking in other ways. "They are used as internal bribery in order to get members to vote for a piece of legislation they wouldn't ordinarily give two minutes to," said Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

----

For more than a decade, Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania has operated a political trading post in a back corner of the House of Representatives.

A gang of about two dozen Democrats mill around his seat. A procession of others walk back to request pet spending projects, known as earmarks. And Republicans come by, asking him to enlist some of those Democrats to join them on close votes. "Whether they get what they want in the bill or they get the votes they are looking for, nobody ever leaves completely disappointed," said Representative Paul E. Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat often found in what is known as the Murtha corner.

Outside Washington, Mr. Murtha, a Vietnam veteran and longtime hawk, may be best known for his break with the president over the Iraq war last fall. But inside the Capitol, he is best known for turning earmarks into power. As the top Democrat on the House military spending subcommittee, he often delivers Democratic votes to Republican leaders in a tacit exchange for earmarks for himself and his allies.

In the last year, Democratic and Republican floor watchers say, Mr. Murtha has helped Republicans round up enough Democratic votes to narrowly block a host of Democratic proposals: to investigate federal contracting fraud in Iraq, to reform lobbying laws, to increase financing for flood control, to add $150 million for veterans' health care and job training, and to exempt middle-class families from the alternative minimum tax.

In one case that particularly irked Democratic partisans, Mr. Murtha led three others in voting against a politically vulnerable Louisiana Democrat's proposal to divert money intended to be spent on base closings to research prosthetic limbs for veterans. It failed by one vote.

For their "nays" on that and other matters, all four Democrats were rewarded. In the weeks after the vote, they claimed credit for a total of more than $250 million in earmarks in the 2006 appropriations bills. Mr. Murtha alone brought home about $80 million for his district and $120 million for his state, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that tracks such projects.

Mr. Murtha, who announced a bid this spring to become the next House Democratic leader, acknowledges that some Democrats grouse about his history of leading others across the aisle. (Several Democrats said as much, but none would speak publicly.) He confirmed working with Republicans on the Iraq war spending vote that blocked the Democratic corruption investigation, but said he did not remember the others. He said he always acted on principle, working with Republicans either because he agreed with them or to uphold private agreements about spending bills.

Posted by: bill | November 13, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

"A Murtha loss, especially by a wide margin, could cripple Pelosi."

could this be a slight exaggeration?

Posted by: SS | November 13, 2006 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Geez, read around a little bit more, would 'ya?

From http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/12/AR2006111200762.html?nav=hcmodule

"In a statement, Hoyer said he remains confident he has the votes.

"Nancy told me some time ago that she would personally support Jack. I respect her decisions as the two are very close," he wrote. "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." "

Hoyer knows that Pelosi is bound to support Murtha. He's probably going to win anyway. While CC is trying to generate heat and light it is instead classic Washington politics: they'll be fierce about it now and best friends immediately afterwards.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | November 13, 2006 3:27 PM | Report abuse

What most people that get their news from Main Street News are unaware of is that many of the web activists believe because of Murtha's stand on Iraq which was to many the turning point for dummycrats, he deserved the post and they would have ben upset if Hoyer was chosen.
This may be the sop to the those so she will not have to concede on more important issue

Posted by: Saul | November 13, 2006 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Poor richard, you may want to check out the profile the NY Times ran on Murtha last month:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/02/washington/02murtha.html?ei=5090&en=0f6ac767e3885818&ex=1317441600&adxnnl=1&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1163448177-EgBbacs5YdHAjJ1wKmdnaQ&pagewanted=print

Money quotes:

No one is more adept at such trading than Mr. Murtha, say current and former members, Congressional aides and outside observers. "He delivers Democrats for key votes, which increases his clout and ability to get more earmarks, which then increases his ability to get Democratic votes," said Steve Ellis, a vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Mr. Murtha leans right on abortion rights and gun control but left on labor, tax and economic issues. And he consistently opposes ethics reform or disclosure requirements, including a proposal this year that would have required lawmakers to sign their names to earmarks, on the grounds that voters police lawmakers' actions.

He has sided with Republicans 169 times on close votes since 1994, more often than all but three of the most conservative Democrats. Many of those votes have been on nonideological but politically pivotal questions. For example, Mr. Murtha has often led members from his corner crowd to vote for procedural rules that limit potential amendments or debate on Republican bills -- votes that typically follow party loyalty.

Dick Armey, a former Republican majority leader, said his party's strategists would often tell him, "Murtha will get us some votes."

Posted by: ruffin | November 13, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I think it is a good choice. Murtha has a military background, he is not a chickenhawk like the yo-yo's that started the Iraqi war, will have credibility with the Pentagon, and quite frankly, what to do in Iraq is the big question. Good for you Nancy. THAT'S CALLED LEADERSHIP.

Posted by: Richard Katz | November 13, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I find this very depressing. Murth is the symbol of corruption on the Democratic side (see the recent Times expose "Trading Votes for Pork." ) A Murtha leadership will demonstrate that Democrats are no better than Republicans and will set them up for being thrown out again in two years- deservedly.

Posted by: Bill | November 13, 2006 3:17 PM | Report abuse

CNN.com is reporting that Mel Martinez is going to be the new Publican National Committee Chairman.
Not Michael Steele? Quick, someone get Chris a tissue, I'm sure he's crying.

Posted by: subpoena power | November 13, 2006 3:15 PM | Report abuse

This was just a dumb move by Pelosi. She should have kept her mouth shut publicly, and privately supported Murtha if that's who she wants. The best thing she could have done is say that she knows who she's going to vote for for majority leader, and no matter who becomes the majority leader, the party, the congress, and the american people will have the best person in the job.

Posted by: corbett | November 13, 2006 3:08 PM | Report abuse

This was just a dumb move by Pelosi. She should have kept her mouth shut publicly, and privately supported Murtha if that's who she wants. The best thing she could have done is say that she knows who she's going to vote for for majority leader, and no matter who becomes the majority leader, the party, the congress, and the american people will have the best person in the job.

Posted by: corbett | November 13, 2006 3:08 PM | Report abuse

What could possible make CC write that endorsing Murtha is an "all-in" wager?

I don't think that word means what Chris thinks it means.

Posted by: mark | November 13, 2006 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I thought this was a bit of a joke. No Disrespect intended to Mr. Murtha. I guess I am engaging in 'politician profiling'. He doesn't fit.

On the face of it, he seems a bit 'Tip Oneil'-ish, but doesn't have the reputation for working both sides of the aisle.

Posted by: poor richard | November 13, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse

If Murtha loses, you say, Pelosi will appear as if she was "too beholden to the liberal wing of the party." Excuse me: what, exactly, are you talking about? That's pure poppycock and titillation. And it's irresponsible.

If anything, backing Murtha shows that Pelosi will eagerly work with Democrats who are fairly old-school and conservative on social issues--while rightly interpreting last Tuesday's landslide victory as a mandate for change in Iraq.

If Murtha is seen as controversial it is because of his opposition to the war, but he is certainly not seen as representing the most "liberal wing" of the party, except by people like you who keep pushing the canard that criticizing the war is synonymous with extreme liberalism. Shame on you for being so logically obtuse.

And logically inconsistent. Contradicting yourself, you noted that Murtha opposes abortion rights and is against gun control, yet you try to paint him as the representative of the "extreme liberal wing" Um, right. I'm not sure if you are being obtuse, inconsistent, or disingenuous.

Last Tuesday, the American people voted overwhelmingly to voice their opposition and dissatisfaction to the war--the exact same thing that John Murtha has done. I guess we're all extreme liberals in your view. That's right, extreme liberals, from Montana, to Missouri, to Virginia, to Kentucky. Right.

Posted by: David | November 13, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

In Shailagh's chat today, she said most hill-ers knew Pelosi is loyal to Murtha because of his help in her earlier campaigns, and that her letter supporting him would be taken with that in mind, but her Cillizza says "it send shock waves" through DC. Wonder which it is?...(At least now Pelosi & GWB have something in common, she's trying to dance with the one that "brung" her).

Posted by: Interesting | November 13, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

This is the Democratic Party Chris!! Such things as a real leadership contest are the norm. The Democrats will unite together after the organization of the House, because they have no choice. The Speaker Elect comes from a Family that paid off it debts and her support of Murtha is one such payment. Win or lose, she will still be Speaker of the House with a loyal Majority Leader to help this Party govern.

Posted by: A Hardwick | November 13, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Nancy Pelosi has shown that she knows how to count votes.

Posted by: NoVA | November 13, 2006 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Why didn't Pelosi consider Michael Steele for House Speaker? That would be a bold choice, don't you think, Chris? Sure, he's not in Congress, and contrary to his campaign fliers he's not a Democrat, but I mean, those commercials of his were *awesome*!

Posted by: subpoena power | November 13, 2006 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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