Hoyer beats Murtha

I have no idea whether John Murtha would have been a better Majority Leader than Steny Hoyer. But the lopsided vote for Hoyer, in the face of Pelosi’s strong backing, suggests that:

1. The Democrats want a weak Speaker.

2. Nancy Pelosi can’t count.

Perhaps it would be possible to put an optimistic spin on those observations, but doing so is beyond my capacity.

Update Unsurprisingly, several readers show that their capacity exceeds mine. Pelosi, they say, backed Murtha but didn’t actually twist any arms. That meant that she could bow in the direction of the Netroots and show her loyalty-down to someone who backed her against Hoyer earlier, but without burning any bridges and while retaining the services of an expert vote-counter and fundraiser. (I’m unenthusiastic, to say the least, about Hoyer’s style of fundraising, which sometimes involves letting the needs of donors such as the banks trump the needs of Democratic voters, e.g. the bankruptcy bill.) On the other hand, the result also leaves Murtha in charge of the Defense appropriation, which means we’re not well positioned to go after the GOP pork-barreling and corruption which could otherwise be a great issue for us and a great way to damage Republican fund-raising.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

18 thoughts on “Hoyer beats Murtha”

  1. "The Democrats want a weak Speaker"
    That seems unfounded. Perhaps they just didn't like Murtha? And not entirely without justification.
    As for Pelosi not being able to count, you have a point there.

  2. "Pelosi can't count" as a conclusion relies a lot on what one particularly vocal Murtha backer was saying. (Moran, I think?)
    I tend to lean towards the thought that Pelosi was simply backing Murtha as a courtesy to a friend — beyond the letter, she didn't seem to do much. Didn't seem to be a lot of arm-twisting, phone calls, or trash talk.
    That may have been a miscalculation — she's got a lot more visibility than she did before — but with the exception of Moran everyone seems rather amiacable about it, and as they noted over at TAPPED — Delay's pick for the same position lost in 1994, and "weak" and "Tom Delay" aren't words that went together in the 90s.

  3. Admittedly inexpert, I found this NYO column convincing, the detail about her public letter especially. I am, however, neither retired Kremlinologist nor wired DC apparatchik.
    Anyone know for sure?

  4. Optimistic Spin:
    1. Debate is good.
    2. Loyalty to the Speaker is good but not determinative.
    3. The race for #2 in the caucus was for Majority Leader not Minority Whip.

  5. It isn't my party, so this is speculation from afar, but it strikes me that the very public position taken by Pelosi was meant to insulate her from the choice, not to effect the choice. That is, Pelosi has protection from, and additional support from, the antiwar forces in the party, because she went to the mat for Murtha. She gets that despite not actually accomplishing anything on his behalf and despite the fact that he lost. Think of it as Nixonian rhetoric. If Pelosi is able to do that consistently–if she consistently maintain the support of the base while screwing them–she'll be successful, in a way.

  6. Possibly a Kabuki theatre excercise.
    Show support for anti war Murtha to get credit from grassroots while knowing the political hack will win.
    A bit like how the D's reacted to Lamont in Conn. say they will support Lamont while with a wink and a grin pulling for the hack.

  7. Pat Buchanan, on Scarborough a few days back, predicted Hoyer's win, and said Pelosi was backing Murtha to cement her ties to his group, all the while knowing Hoyer would take it.

  8. Pelosi could have come out and minimized things, e.g. by saying "we have two good candidates", and she didn't.
    This was largely a post-election news vacuum story. Maybe it will be forgotten but it was just too handy for the "disarray" meme. Of course the Republicans have an election quietly where a guy lost by just one vote and they're somehow "united" …
    Anyway, I think it was quixotic of Murtha and he's really to blame here. It put Pelosi in a sticky position.
    But ultimately I'm surprised it was these two. Why didn't a dark horse emerge and save the day? 😉
    Ultimately I don't think Hoyer will be that bad.

  9. "We had two good candidates."
    Well, I wouldn't go that far. We had two good ole boys, both conservative & both masters of the corrupt earmark scams that oil the levers of power. The Democrats we a lot more morally attractive when they were in the minority.

  10. To me, the fact that the Dem caucus elected Hoyer shows they have more sense than their Speaker. I'll be more interested to see what happens with the Intelligence Committee. Putting in charge of the nation's most closely guarded secrets a guy who was removed from the bench by Congress for accepting mafia bribes is just incredible – I can't imagine the Dem caucus would let Pelosi do that.
    I don't give a damn about Nancy Pelosi, but I do care about the country.

  11. This is all inside baseball, as far as the rest of the country is concerned. Few people outside the Beltway give a rat's tuchis, and this will be forgotten by next week.

  12. Doesn't this rather suggest that Pelosi is
    willing to lead by expressing her own preference,
    rather than just sit on the fence and follow the
    herd ? And what's wrong with that ?
    One lesson to take away is that the media are going
    to jump on her whatever she does. So she might as
    well do what's right.

  13. "Inside baseball. Nobody cares except a few politics nerds like us. Next week, nobody will remember. "
    So true.

  14. I have to strongly disagree with the comments here. Murtha was important not because he was a Democrat who opposed the war — there were plenty of those — but because of how atypical a Democrat he was. He was hawkish, pro-military, and very conservative on many issues, that's why he stood out when he began to speak out so strongly.
    That, certainly, would not have ruled him out for a leadership post. But we won on two issues, on Iraq and on Republican corruption. Once Murtha's ethical problems began to surface, once the Abscam tape began to show up on the Web, supporting him would have been suicide. (In fact it bothers me, as a Democrat, that Speaker Pelosi's first two fights may be for Murtha and the even greater embarassment of Alcee Hastings.)
    Murtha's loss means the fight will be forgotten, the way the Walker-DeLay fight was. But if he'd won, he'd be a weapon in the Republican hands from now till 2008.
    Democrats are not Republicans. We don't follow our leadership blindly when they lead us over a cliff. Is Hoyer (or Harman) a great choice? No, but they simply are better than the alternatives, if we want to show that we are a 'party of character.'

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