Democrats in the House of Representatives defied newly elected Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi today by ignoring her recommendation and selecting Rep Steny Hoyer as Pelosi’s top lieutenant.
Pelosi had supported Rep John Murtha, whose demand last year that US troops be removed from Iraq had set in motion the Democratic sweep of Congress in this month’s elections.
Hoyer and Pelosi are long-time rivals. Hoyer won the secret-ballot election by a 149-86 vote.
The intraparty battle had preoccupied Democrats, overshadowing Pelosi’s earlier unanimous election as speaker-elect by House Democrats. Pelosi is set to become first woman speaker, a post that constitutionally is second in line of succession to the presidency.
Pelosi had aggressively pushed Murtha’s candidacy after endorsing him on Sunday and officially nominated him at the private caucus. She defeated Hoyer for a leadership race in 2001, and the two have had an uneasy relationship since.
However, Hoyer claimed considerable support from some liberals made uncomfortable by Murtha's opposition to abortion, gun control and changes to House ethics rules.
And many Democrats were dismayed that the internal party dispute had broken out in the first place and objected to heavy pressure placed on long-standing Hoyer supporters.
Pelosi officially becomes speaker in January, succeeding Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, when the House convenes and the new Democratic majority in the next session of Congress formally elects her.
“We made history, and now we will make progress for the American people,” Pelosi told members of the rank and file moments after her selection.
She vowed that after 12 years in the minority: “We will not be dazzled by money and special interests.”
Democrats won the election promising to clean up Congress after a series of corruption and sexual scandals involving top Republican officials.
One of the biggest scandals involved the powerful Republican majority leader, Tom DeLay, who was forced to resign.
Pelosi was elevated by her party caucus not long after Democrats went into secret session at the Capitol to choose their leaders.
She asked for unity in the party, but within moments she put her prestige on the line by nominating Rep. John Murtha for majority leader, second in the soon-to-be majority party’s hierarchy, in a hotly contested race.
The history of the moment notwithstanding, there was more intrigue surrounding the contest for the No. 2 job.
Pelosi, who was minority leader in the House during the latter years of the Republican ascendancy, passed over her current deputy, Steny Hoyer, and endorsed long-time ally John Murtha to become majority leader.
Murtha, a retired Marine who generally has supported U.S. military efforts, has gained considerable attention for his criticism of the administration’s Iraq war policies. He steered Pelosi’s winning campaign in 2001 against Hoyer for the No. 2 Democratic leadership post, and his supporters say Pelosi deserves a more loyal deputy.
Hoyer, a Pelosi rival, was battling to hold onto the lead in the race with Murtha, and both candidates were predicting victory via a secret ballot, which allows lawmakers to be evasive when asked about their intentions.
“Steny was more where the mainstream of where the party was,” said Rep. Barney Frank, who will become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in the new Congress.
About Pelosi’s endorsement of Murtha, Frank said, “She’s a very smart woman who made an error in judgment.”
Democrats also selected Rep. James Clyburn as majority whip, their No. 3 post. Clyburn, who is black, would become the highest-ever ranking member of his race in Congress. Campaign chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel was rewarded with the caucus chair post, the No. 4 position for Democrats, for his efforts in leading the party back into the majority.
Meanwhile, House Republicans, soon to be in the minority for the first time since 1994, were to meet in private Thursday to hear presentations from candidates for their leadership posts. Their election was scheduled for Friday.
Finding a replacement for Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois turned into a two-man race between Majority Leader John Boehner, the current No. 2 official, and conservative challenger Rep. Mike Pence.