Big day for House Dems

Who will be the next House majority leader? Liberal John Murtha or moderate Steny Hoyer? That is the question before the House Democratic caucus this morning as the gather in the Cannon House Office Building. And the side story here is Nancy Pelosi who is doing everything in her power to elect Murtha (who was instrumental in getting Pelosi the top Democratic position in 2001).

Roll Call reports:

Both Murtha and Hoyer and their supporters spent much of Wednesday shoring up votes — nearly 80 Democrats have publicly endorsed Hoyer, while more than 20 have backed Murtha’s bid — and working the handful of lawmakers believed to remain undecided in the hours leading up to the vote.

“Things have moved significantly in the past few days,” asserted Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), who has backed Murtha in the contest. Another Murtha operative, Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) suggested that the race remained tight, but predicted the Pennsylvania lawmaker would nonetheless win. “Things are close for us, they’re OK,” he said.

But Murtha also spent Wednesday deflecting questions over his involvement in the Abscam scandal of the early 1980s, in which he was caught on videotape being offered a $50,000 bribe by an undercover FBI agent. Murtha, who never was charged in the case but was named as an unindicted co-conspirator, has maintained he did nothing wrong.

Murtha also surprised some moderate Democrats on Wednesday, asserting at a Blue Dog Coalition meeting that an ethics and lobbying reform bill touted by party leaders was “total crap,” but said that he would work to enact the legislation — despite having opposed an earlier iteration on the House floor — because Pelosi supports it,

“Even though I think it’s total crap, I’ll vote for it and pass it because that’s what Nancy wants,” Murtha said in reference to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a cornerstone of the Democrats’ legislative agenda in the 110th Congress.

Regarding Murtha’s “total crap” comment…maybe he isn’t all that bad, as, in my opinion, that mish-mash of a bill is a completely political exercise designed to dupe the public rather than reform Congress. There are better ways to clean up Congress.

The Hill has more on the deepening divisions in the Democratic Party:

House Democrats head to the ballot box today to elect their majority leader, with many of them fretting that the contentious race has split their caucus into two warring camps, one allied with Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the other with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), regardless of today’s outcome.

The race has reinforced longstanding divisions between different factions in the caucus, members and observers said, and has diverted their attention from a positive message they hoped to project just days after winning control of the House…

…Many Democrats were dismayed at the ever more heated and at times ugly battle between two of their most senior members, much of it playing out on national television.Some Hoyer backers questioned Pelosi’s political judgment, arguing that the effort to “purge” Hoyer from the leadership would damage caucus unity.

“It’s a terrible way to start. It’s a lose-lose situation. Either way she has polarized the caucus,” said one House Democrat allied with Hoyer.

“You’re going to be more likely to question her after something like this that is so clearly bad for us and could have been avoided,” another commented.

The situation reminded more than one lawmaker of a remark made once by former Rep. Mo Udall (D-Ariz.): “I have learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.”

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