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Roll Call

Hoyer, Murtha Battle

As Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged Wednesday to rule the House fairly in the 110th Congress as the first-ever female Speaker, a handful of senior Democrats moved aggressively to secure other leadership posts in their nascent majority.

One day after Democrats decisively seized control of the chamber from the GOP, one of the architects of that victory — Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) — remained mum about his plans despite speculation that he could run for Majority Whip.

Current Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was not similarly hesitant, formally announcing his bid for the Majority Leader’s office early Wednesday morning and confidently predicting that he will secure the post when Democrats vote in leadership election on Nov. 16.

“I think I’m going to win,” Hoyer said in an interview Wednesday. The Maryland lawmaker, who has served as Minority Whip since 2003, said “over a majority” of House incumbents as well as newly-elected lawmakers “have indicated that they would be supportive of me.”

But Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) — who stunned fellow lawmakers when he announced in June that he would campaign for the Majority Leader post against Hoyer — re-affirmed his own interest in the office Wednesday.

“I’m working diligently now trying to convince people that I’d make a good balance” to the leadership team, Murtha said in an interview with National Public Radio.

The Pennsylvania lawmaker declined to be interviewed for this article.

Murtha, who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, also defended his decision to seek the leadership post, asserting that not only is the office an “open seat” in the new Congress, but arguing that he outranks Hoyer in the Caucus hierarchy.

“There’s Nancy Pelosi, [Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep.] Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and myself, and then Hoyer is listed after me in the power plays,” Murtha said on NPR.

That assertion bewildered at least one Democratic House lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “In my mind that shows a lack of understanding. I like Mr. Murtha but that’s not just the way it is.”

“There is real genuine concern that we don’t want to see a divisive leadership fight, just at the time that we’re seeing tremendous success and tremendous unity and harmony and good feelings in the Caucus,” the lawmaker added.

Although some Democratic lawmakers have acknowledged their support for one of the would-be Majority Leaders, neither Hoyer nor Murtha have released lists of backers.

Hoyer asserted Wednesday that doing so could create unnecessary divisions in the Caucus heading into the new session.

“My object is to keep our Caucus unified ... so I’m not going to put out any lists,” added Hoyer, who is expected to receive the support of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, as well as the New Democratic Coalition.

A group of senior lawmakers representing a broad cross-section of the Caucus — including Reps. Barney Frank (Mass.), John Dingell (Mich.), Henry Waxman (Calif.), Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), John Lewis (Ga.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) and James Oberstar (Minn.) — issued their own letter Wednesday urging fellow Democrats to back Hoyer’s bid.

“Steny ... has been an instrumental part of our leadership team, reaching out to all elements of our diverse Caucus and helping to bring Democrats together,” the letter stated. “Our continued unity is imperative, and we believe that the leadership team that brought us to this point should continue to lead us in the new Majority.”

In addition, the significant time Hoyer has spent over the past two years building a base of support among junior Democrats, including challengers and open-seat candidates, by raising money and making campaign visits to 80 districts, appears ready to pay dividends, as several Members-elect confirmed Wednesday that they will cast ballots for the Maryland lawmaker next week.

“I watched Steny Hoyer for the last few months,” said Rep.-elect Albio Sires (D-N.J.), one of several incoming House Democrats who now support Hoyer’s bid. “He has worked very hard to keep the Caucus unified and worked on electing new Members. ... I think he has real authentic qualities that earn him a lot of support.”

Rep.-elect Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) said Murtha called him on Tuesday night, but he was still backing Hoyer, whom he first met in early 2005.

“It’s like in anything — when you establish a relationship of trust, it makes the decision easier,” Ellsworth said. “Congressman Hoyer was one of the first people in April ’05 that I met with when I went to [Washington, D.C.] to decide if I was going to run. Since that time, I have been in contact with him a dozen times or more. ... It just feels more natural due to the relationship that we have that I would support him.”

Ellsworth said Murtha called him on Tuesday night to congratulate him on his victory over Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.), but has had no other contact with the Pennsylvania Democrat. “It was on Election Night, a short conversation to congratulate me,” Ellsworth said.

Hoyer gave nearly $14,000 to Ellsworth’s campaign, while Murtha donated $4,000.

While House lawmakers backing Murtha acknowledge that he does not have one particular base of support, they claim that Murtha will instead draw endorsements from across the Caucus.

“It’s not a factionalized race,” Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), a Murtha backer, said Wednesday.

The Massachusetts lawmaker also added that he has advised Members-elect not to offer endorsements in the race prior to arriving in Washington next week for an organizational meeting of the Caucus

“My hope is that not a single new Member would spend a single second thinking about these leadership races before Tuesday,” Capuano said.

In addition to the Majority Leader competition, Democrats could see a contest for control of the third-ranking post of Majority Whip.

Although House Democratic Caucus Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) remained the only active candidate for the post Wednesday evening it is possible that Emanuel, who has said he will not serve a second term as DCCC chairman, will make a bid for the office.

Appearing at a press briefing Wednesday, Emanuel declined to discuss his plans, asserting that he wanted to confer with fellow lawmakers before issuing a decision. “Give me 24 hours more to decide,” he said.

But even if Emanuel decides against challenging Clyburn for the post, the South Carolina lawmaker could still face competition. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the current Chief Deputy Minority Whip, has not spoken publicly about her interest in the post, but is nonetheless expected to enter the race if Emanuel does not.

Clyburn officially announced his bid Wednesday in a letter to fellow lawmakers — although he began actively seeking endorsements in mid-October — touting his previous leadership experience, including chairing the Congressional Black Caucus as well as serving three years as the Democratic Caucus vice chairman.

“You run for the next office by serving well in the office you hold,” Clyburn said during the DCCC’s election watch party Tuesday night.

In the meantime, Pelosi, who is expected to ascend to the Speaker’s office in January when Democrats take control of the House, has demurred on whether she will offer her own endorsement in the leadership races, asserting at a Wednesday press conference that Democrats first needed to finalize the outcome of several races.

“Democrats pledge civility and bipartisanship,” Pelosi said at a midday press conference, her first in the wake of the Tuesday victory. “Democrats are not about getting even,” she later added. “Democrats are about helping America get ahead.”

Some Democratic strategists have suggested Pelosi should intervene in the Hoyer-Murtha contest in order to avoid a divisive inter-party squabble so soon after a major electoral victory, but the California Democrat has not done so yet.

“I think that this has to play out on its own,” said a top House Democratic staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Another senior House aide said Pelosi “was staying on the sidelines” and has not indicated any willingness to take sides.

Murtha has won kudos from many in the party for his opposition to President Bush on the Iraq War, despite intense criticism from House and Senate GOP leaders, as well as conservative commentators. Hoyer, while not close to Pelosi personally, has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and incumbents, and spent extensive time on the road this election cycle, all of which earned him support within the Democratic Caucus.

In the interim, Democrats will hold an organizational meeting Tuesday, one of the first steps as the Caucus prepare to take over the majority party role it last held in 1994.

According to Capuano, who has overseen a review of the internal Caucus rules in recent months, Democrats will vote Tuesday on a new package of guidelines, covering everything from the selection of committee chairmen to more mundane regulations.

“There’s no real shake-up in these rules, the real shake-up will come in the House rules,” Capuano said.

Senior House Democratic aides said Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have otherwise done almost no preparatory work on taking over physical control of the House.

Pelosi has not appointed a trusted Democrat to oversee the transition to Democratic rule, a tactic former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) employed when the GOP won control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections.

Pelosi was very sensitive to accusations by President Bush and other Republican leaders that Democrats “were measuring the drapes” at the Capitol for a takeover, they purposely delayed any transition planning.

“[Pelosi] put the nix on anyone doing the transition,” said a high-ranking Democratic aide.

Bush did telephone both Pelosi and Hoyer early Wednesday morning — he joked at a press conference that he had given Pelosi “the name of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the drapes in her new office” — and the Democratic leaders are scheduled to have lunch at the White House today.

“I had a very cordial conversation,” Hoyer said of his conversation with Bush. “Over the next two years, he wants to work together. If that’s the posture he takes, we want to do the same.”

Nicole Duran contributed to this report.

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