Pelosi Calls Murtha a Hero, a Giant

Posted February 16, 2010 at 12:33pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday delivered a final farewell to the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) at his funeral service in Johnstown, Pa., telling a crowd of family, constituents, colleagues and top military brass that her longtime friend was a “Patriot. Champion. Hero. Giant. … We will never see his like again.”

Murtha, the powerful head of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, died at 77 last week after complications from gallbladder surgery. Murtha helped manage Pelosi’s leadership elections, including her first major victory as House Minority Whip. In turn, Pelosi backed Murtha in 2006 when he mounted an unsuccessful bid against Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for Majority Leader.

At Murtha’s funeral, the Speaker described how, during Murtha’s 35-year tenure in Congress, he “held court in that part of the House chamber that was respectfully, sometimes fearfully, known as the Pennsylvania corner. Members from across the country would come to the corner to get Jack’s blessing. … It was a sight to behold.”

Murtha was “a master at work” when it came to legislating, Pelosi said. When lawmakers gathered around him at his House seat to work out an agreement on a particular issue, “There was Jack, always smiling, with twinkling eyes.”

Pelosi was among a diverse mix of high-profile attendees at Murtha’s service. Others included former President Bill Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and several Pennsylvania lawmakers. Other Members in attendance included House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

While no mention was made of troubles that Murtha encountered during his tenure in Congress, one speaker made light of alleged ethics violations that plagued him in his later years. Murtha became the center of controversy in 2008 after the now-defunct PMA Group lobbying firm was raided by the FBI. PMA was founded by a former Appropriations Committee staffer with close ties to Murtha, and the firm specialized in getting appropriations earmarks for clients from Murtha’s Appropriations subcommittee. A Congressional investigation against Murtha was ultimately dropped.

The Rev. William George, president of Georgetown Preparatory School and a friend of Murtha’s, cited a passage from the Bible about there being a time for many things in life, including “a time to make laws, and yes, a time to earmark.”