The House Majority Leader’s Race: 3 Comments

1) If Murtha is smart, then his campaign should include a promise that he will immediately ask the House Ethics Committee to investigate him. Murtha’s ethical issues are disturbing but not overwhelming: but this only as far as we know now. The Democrats absolutely cannot let the GOP be the ones to pick up the rock and be shocked, shocked that bugs are crawling around there. That is too precious a gift to hand to the Republicans. Besides, it comports with the Democratic meme: we’re not saying that we are perfect–we are saying that we are responsible.

Murtha’s tack should be to put his fate in the hands of the Ethics Committee, and if it believes that he significantly violated House rules, he will step down.

2) Greg Sargent notes that 9 prospective Dem committee chairs have endorsed Hoyer. That’s hardly a surprise: whom you back in this race depends upon how strong a Speaker you want Pelosi to be. Committee chairs obviously want a somewhat weaker Speaker.

But here’s an interesting twist: who is notably missing on that list? Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman. Maybe this is a gambit to save her job, which is in jeopardy. If she winds up backing Murtha and he wins, it will be harder for Pelosi to sack her.

3) Jim Moran of Virginia already claims that Murtha has the votes. He’s made a lot of claims over the last 24 hours, as well as over the last few years. I would be wary of taking it too seriously. So does Jerome Armstrong, whom I take more seriously.

I lean toward Murtha, despite his ethical issues, because I think that a strong Speaker is critical, especially for the next two years. We need to keep message discipline, and as Steve and Mark have pointed out, we need to keep policy discipline as well. The Speaker needs to be able to enforce her will.

It’s going to be an interesting 48 hours.

UPDATE: I should mention that Ezra made the same point about this race basically being about how one feels about a strong Speakership in the upcoming Congress, although he doesn’t take sides in that dispute.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

15 thoughts on “The House Majority Leader’s Race: 3 Comments”

  1. Sorry Jonathan, but I have to disagree with you here. It is a terrible mistake to turn around -fresh from raking Republicans over hot coals for their ethical improprieties – and excuse Murtha from his issues just because he's "one of our own."
    For the record, I think both are poor choices (Hoyer is a wholly-owned subsidiary of far too many), but if ethics mean anything they mean that we deal the same way with every party. Given the choice between two pork-barrel old line politicans, I'll choose the (more) ethical one any day.

  2. Ok, so we've established that,
    1. You think any law that hurts Republicans would be ok, just call it "lobbying reform" whether it is or not.
    2. Gerrymandering is fine when it helps Democrats.
    3. Freedom of speech isn't worth defending if it's the freedom of people who disagree with you.
    4. Bait and switch is a good idea; Run as sober reformers, and then go for the contraversial stuff in 2009, without having run on it.
    and, now,
    5. Ethics doesn't matter if a leader looks strong.
    I miss anything?

  3. No, no, no, requesting an investigation is never "smart." Did Bill Clinton ever do anything so stupid? Best strategy is to say that it's old news, already investigated to death.

  4. What is this, tag team? Brett, I didn't see you touch Sebastian's hand; go back and re-enter the ring.

  5. I'm afraid Brett is quite right. Or, put another way, the Republicans thought they needed a strong speaker/leadership team so they swept the Mark Foley mess under the rug.

  6. "Or, put another way, the Republicans thought they needed a strong speaker/leadership team so they swept the Mark Foley mess under the rug."
    Quite true. And Democrats only hope for 2008 is to at least *appear* to be better than Republicans. I must say that by even considering Rep. Hastings for a committee chairmanship, you're not off to a good start.

  7. Howard Dean's "Fifty State Plan" was a successful strategy in winning congress.
    Unfortuanately, he went out and recruited candidates that were more conservative than the typical Pelosi Democrat.
    I like this new congress. I was a bit worried that Pelosi like candidates would get in and steer this country very far left.
    I do not believe that will happen. I do not believe the Democrats will vote to immediately withdraw from Iraq.
    I believe the American voter wanted a solution to Iraq. The "stay the course" mentality of George Bush troubled many Americans.
    Doesn't anyone find it interesting that the Democrats do not have a plan for Iraq? They were the first to be in line to criticize, but as I have always said, if you have a point of criticism, you offer a solution.
    With Murtha, Pelosi is going to sully her hands and cast a dark shawdow upon herself and her leadership if she penalizes those who do not support Murtha.
    Murtha is a crook and is listed in the top 20 of dirty politicians.
    If Pelosi wants change. She needs to tend to the care of her new flock and not one black sheep.

  8. Murtha was ultimately not indicted or sanctioned by the ethics committee. As much as I would rather see someone with cleaner hands as Majority leader, there is no clear-cut, bright-line reason to oppose him on ethical grounds in favor of a K Street bagman like Hoyer. The Abscam tape plays badly on TV, but it's old news and will have a short shelf life in the media. As long as Murtha plays ball on Pelosi's lobbying and earmark reforms, I'm willing to give him a chance.
    Hastings is another issue entirely. He was impeached and removed from his last position of authority. Making him a committee chair would be utterly inexcusable.

  9. > Doesn't anyone find it interesting that the
    > Democrats do not have a plan for Iraq? They were
    > the first to be in line to criticize, but as I
    > have always said, if you have a point of
    > criticism, you offer a solution.
    Please explain to me in detail George W. Bush's plan for Iraq. While I do not hold with the recent fetishization of "The Commander-in-Chief" Mr. Bush is in fact the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces and (since there was no declaration of war, just an AUMF) fully _responsible_ for the Iraq situation.
    Again – please be specific – what is CINC "Decider" Bush's plan for Iraq?

  10. I love it! Murtha's Abscam involvement and over ethical lapses? "Not overwhelming." I can't wait to read what Jonathan thinks of Hastings. I can see it now: "Sure he was impeached, but the evidence wasn't strong enough to convict him in a court of law, and besides, it was a long time ago."
    The focus on giving leadership what it needs to run a closely divided Congress? Where have I seen that recently? And how did that turn out?
    As the saying goes, this time it's farce.

  11. Doesn't anyone find it interesting that the
    > Democrats do not have a plan for Iraq? They were
    > the first to be in line to criticize, but as I
    > have always said, if you have a point of
    > criticism, you offer a solution.
    I see my concern was never addressed, but cleverly deflected back to Bush. Typical.
    I think Bush intended to go in, topple Saddam and build a Democracy in the middle east. Granted, I understand his motive was steeped in ideaology and not practicality.
    Iraq does have a new constitution, it does have an elected body, the infrastructed is being up graded, schools are being built, soccer fields built;a great many good things done in that country.
    What Bush did not account for is that the US is looked upon as an occupation forced instead of liberators. Terrorist have flooded the borders so they can attack the U.S directly(which was not accounted for), and Bush failed to have enough troops on the ground for security.
    Bush needed to adjust instead of "staying the course", but failed to do so. I totally agree that
    Bush and his Iraq policies have failed, so what can the Dem's do for us or will they wait for the Baker/Hamilton report to come out?
    P.S. I am a Democrat, though not a very pleased one.

  12. Ty,
    The problem is that without (1) knowing what Bush's plan is (2) believing in good faith that Bush knows he has made serious mistakes and needs to undertake painful, soul-searching review of policy, asking the Democrats to come up with "a plan for Iraq" is like asking the blindfolded kidnap victim in the back seat to come up with a plan to drive the vehicle when the kidnapper has a heart attack.
    Cheney has said explicitly that he will refuse to even testify before Congress; how exactly are the Democrats supposed to deal with that situation in good faith when one of the key players arrogantly refuses to even explain himself? Do you have any belief that the Bush Administration has abandoned either the Unitary Executive bogosity or the argument that the AMUF essentially makes Bush a non-answerable dictator?

  13. Bush needed to do two things he didn't do:
    1. He, knowing that he was going to be taking the nation to war after 9-11, should have gotten increased troop caps. Instead, he decided to do it all with the pre-existing military. I presume because he didn't want his wars to get in the way of his domestic policy ambitions.
    2. He needed to seal Iraq's borders against infiltration from Syria and Iran. It's no secret that the Iraqi "insurgency" we're fighting is less a home grown insurgency than a proxy war against us by those two countries, which don't want a successful democracy on their border to cause citizens to ask why THEY can't have one.
    I'm assuming that failure was in part due to the first: Lack of resources, and concern about adding fronts to the war if Iraq and Syria decided to escalate instead of backing down.
    The Republicans lost in large part because of Iraq, but a good deal of that loss was due to people who didn't think we were approaching the war seriously enough. Bush was in that sweet spot where you get both the pro-war and anti-war sides mad at you, and war is one thing you should either do all out, or not at all.

  14. Cranky,
    I understand your point of view and agree that the Dem's, and even other Republicans, will have a hard time finding a "solution" to Iraq if the administration does not cooperate.
    Be that as it may, I stick with my original statement that if you criticize, you need to offer a solution.
    Both parites are waiting for the Hamilton/Baker report and I just find that odd when we just finished an election cycle where the Dem's promised change of course in Iraq.
    So I guess I am holding their feet to the fire on this one.

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