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Newly elected House Democratic leaders vowed to quickly reunify their Caucus in the wake of a bitter leadership contest last week, but offered few details and left some rank-and-file Members questioning how the party will mend its divisions as it prepares to take control of the chamber in the 110th Congress.
“We’ve had our debates. We’ve had our disagreements in that room, but now that is over,” Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said Thursday following a closed-door meeting at which Democrats elected Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) to be Majority Leader, defeating Pelosi’s close ally and preferred candidate, Rep. John Murtha (Pa.).
But at least a few Democratic lawmakers remained angry Thursday over allegedly heavy-handed tactics employed by Murtha supporters in the contest, and others publicly suggested that House leaders could have a difficult time alleviating any lingering bruises.
“I think the Caucus is fractured,” Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), who will be a co-chairman of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in the 110th Congress, said Thursday, adding, Pelosi’s “biggest challenge is figuring out how to wrap her arms around all the Caucus.”
Several Members, however, asserted that with the election completed Democrats will focus on readying their legislative agenda, rather than dwell on differences. “We just want to move forward,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), who endorsed Hoyer in the race.
“The majority of us in the Caucus didn’t see this as a battle between Steny and Nancy,” said Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), another incoming Blue Dog co-chairman. “By the time we get back on Dec. 4, you’ll see a reunited Democratic Party.”
One Democratic lawmaker, who requested not to be identified, evaluated the outcome of the election by stating that the Speaker-in-waiting “has more egg on her face than a broken arm.” But the Democrat added that to return the Caucus to unity, Pelosi must exert as much effort privately as she has pledged in public.
“If people want to continue this, then we’ll know. ... Nancy will set the tone,” the lawmaker said.
At least one House Democrat who backed Murtha in the contest, Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), had alluded Thursday to the possibility that lawmakers who had pledged support to Murtha privately but cast their ballots otherwise could face retribution when committee assignments are distributed.
“It remains to be seen whether all their wishes for committee assignments will be fulfilled,” Moran said, referring to the freshman Democratic lawmakers, nearly two-thirds of which are believed to have supported Hoyer in the race by some estimates.
But while top Democrats on nine House committees endorsed Hoyer’s bid, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who had endorsed Murtha, said he expects those Members will shore up Pelosi’s leadership when they hold the gavels next year.
“Many of the ... to-be-chairpersons are going to make sure she’s a strong Speaker,” he said Thursday, adding of any lingering animosity: “It doesn’t continue ... We continue to move forward.”
The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), is expected to establish its membership for the 110th Congress in coming weeks, and will begin work in December on the selection of committee chairmen, as well as panel assignments for rank-and-file Members.
After losing his bid for elected leadership, Murtha is expected to chair the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, which controls a significant portion of federal spending, and perhaps more significantly will allow him to to continue in his role as the Democrats’ point man in opposition to the Iraq War.
“I was proud to support him for Majority Leader because I thought that would be the best way to bring an end to the war in Iraq,” Pelosi said Thursday. “I know that he will continue to take the lead on that issue for our Caucus, for this Congress, for our country.”
In the aftermath of the election, Hoyer went on to offer his support to the California lawmaker.
“Our Caucus is unified today,” Hoyer said. “I intend to do everything in my power to make Nancy Pelosi the most successful Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives.”
A Pelosi spokesman said Friday that the Speaker-designate was not slated to formally meet with the new leadership team — also made up of Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (Conn.) — before departing to her San Francisco district for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, although he added that Democrats would likely have casual discussions before returning for the Dec. 4 lame-duck session.
In addition, Pelosi is expected to appoint a new DCCC chairman in the near future, filling the remaining Democratic leadership position. There were no indications Friday when the Speaker-designate would make her selection, but previous chairmen have been tapped late in December or in early January.
Several current DCCC lieutenants are considered likely candidates for the post, including Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Artur Davis (Ala.) and Mike Thompson (Calif.), who is a close Pelosi ally.
In the meantime, Clyburn said he plans to establish his Whip team for the new Congress, and said Thursday that he would consult with the new leadership team on potential deputies. While he said he will consider the seven current Chief Deputy Whips, the South Carolina lawmaker said he has decided on at least one new addition, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.).