Murtha v. Hoyer

Leftie columnists and bloggers are lining up on both sides of the Murtha v. Hoyer fight, and both sides have good arguments.

On most issues I care about, Hoyer has a far better voting record than Murtha. For example, according to Project VoteSmart, in 2006 Planned Parenthood gave Hoyer a 100 percent rating; Murtha got 0. That’s pretty stark. Nearly always, that would be the end of the argument for me. And given the fact that Murtha is under an ethics cloud, one would think Hoyer would be a better choice for House Majority Leader.

And he might be, except for two issues — Iraq and corporatism. Hoyer has undermined efforts by the Dems to form a united front against Bush’s War. He also has uncomfortably close ties to big business and K Street lobbyists; last year he split with Pelosi on free-trade votes and on bankruptcy reform.

Last December, David Sirota wrote,

Here are some questions every Democrat in America should be asking: why is Steny Hoyer, the House’s second-ranking Democrat, going out of his way to undermine the Democratic Party’s message on Iraq? Why is Hoyer using his taxpayer-paid staff to place stories bragging about his efforts to shakedown corporate lobbyists? And why has Hoyer undercut his party on critical votes that would have helped Democrats craft a strong, crisp message?

I used to think it was because Steny Hoyer was just an extraordinary stupid person who had been insulated in the Beltway for so long that he was simply suffering from severe brain rot. But alas, I was stupid in thinking that. What’s really going on is very obvious: Hoyer is waging a not-so-secret, but oh-so-self-serving campaign to topple House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) and assume the top job in the Democratic Caucus – a job he has coveted since Pelosi beat him out for whip a few years back. And he’s waging his campaign even though it is destroying his own party.

So, you see … there’s a problem.

You don’t need to look very far to see how Hoyer is doing everything he can to self-servingly undermine his party as a way to hurt Pelosi. In today’s Washington Post, for instance, the paper reported that according to congressional sources, Hoyer “told colleagues that Pelosi’s recent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal [from Iraq] combined with her claim that more than half of House Democrats support her position, could backfire on the party.” You might recall that last week it was Hoyer who, after Pelosi came out in support of Jack Murtha’s plan for an exit strategy, was quoted in the Post saying withdrawal “could lead to disaster” – a statement only a Washington politician wholly out of touch with ordinary Americans could make, considering a disaster has long been unfolding in Iraq, and considering most Americans now support an exit strategy.

Then, while Pelosi works to resist the influence of corporate interests as she goes after the GOP’s “culture of corruption,” it is Hoyer who is deliberately landing stories in newspapers about his efforts to formalize his own system of legalized bribery – putting his own campaign wallet ahead of Democrats’ efforts to develop a message of reform. Today in Roll Call, for instance, it was Hoyer who placed the story that details his efforts to “woo K Street” (aka. the corporate lobbying community). The story notes he convened a meeting of “50 business-minded Democratic consultants, lobbyists and corporate officers to get them to commit to writing checks.” And in case you didn’t think Hoyer was trying to land these stories – just check out his website where he brazenly displays a similar story, as if his corporate shakedown operation is a trophy to be marveled at – and not an albatross that directly undermines his party’s message.

Finally, it has been Hoyer who has made a point of actively working against Pelosi on major congressional votes. You remember, it was Hoyer – the Democratic Whip – who refused to whip votes together to try to defeat the corporate-written Central American Free Trade Agreement. When Pelosi tried to build opposition to the disgusting bankruptcy bill, it was Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, who not only didn’t whip against the bankruptcy bill, but actually voted for it, after pocketing massive campaign contributions from the banking industry. While Pelosi was taking a stand by voting against the Iraq War, Hoyer was voting for the Iraq War. And when Pelosi worked to keep her caucus together in opposing the GOP Energy Bill, it was Hoyer who voted for the nauseating legislation after pocketing more than $300,000 from energy/natural resource industry cash. That legislation that literally gave away billions of taxpayer dollars to the energy industry profiteers who proceeded to bilk Americans with higher and higher gas prices.

I’m so happy to find someone else doing the research. See also by David Sirota — “DLC’s Revisionist History on Iraq Knows No Bounds” and “Big Money vs. Grassroots: The Fight For the Heart of the Democratic Party.”

What about Murtha’s ethical problems? Jonathan Weisman writes in today’s Washington Post:

Murtha, a longtime senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has battled accusations over the years that he has traded federal spending for campaign contributions, that he has abused his post as ranking party member on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, and that he has stood in the way of ethics investigations. Those charges come on top of Murtha’s involvement 26 years ago in the FBI’s Abscam bribery sting.

Ain’t nobody pure. I’m not going to make excuses for Murtha. I do think that Hoyer’s ties to K Street and Big Corporations are just as troubling as the allegations against Murtha, if not more so. In the ethics department, I’d say it’s a wash. But some disagree. In some quarters, supporting legislation that hurts the public but favors big-ticket campaign contributors doesn’t register as an ethics problem.

“Pelosi’s endorsement suggests to me she was interested in the culture of corruption only as a campaign issue and has no real interest in true reform,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Democratic-leaning group. “It is shocking to me that someone with [Murtha’s] ethics problems could be number two in the House leadership.”

David Corn writes at The Nation:

CREW’s low-down on Murtha charges that he abused his position as the senior member of the defense appropriations subcommittee to steer contracts to military firms represented by his brother, a registered lobbyist. The report also notes that Murtha routinely inserted funding earmarks into defense spending bills for contractors that funded his campaigns and hired a lobbying firm run by a former aide on the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Murtha, according to Sloan, was also instrumental in undermining the House ethics committee. In the late 1990s, he successfully pushed (with other legislators) to change the committee’s rules to prevent it from accepting ethics complaints from parties outside Congress. He also pressed Democratic leaders to name Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia the senior Democrat of the ethics committee. Mollohan has had his own ethics troubles–which have forced him off the ethics committee–and is a member of CREW’s Top (or Bottom) 20. (See here.) “Murtha really doesn’t like the ethics committee,” says Sloan, speculating this may be due to Murtha’s involvement in the Abscam bribery scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s. (The ethics committee chose not to file charges against Murtha, after which the panel’s special counsel resigned in protest.) “Murtha seems like a bad choice from our perspective,” Sloan said.

CREW’s reaction to Murtha is being robustly linked on the Right Blogosophere. We know how much righties care about ethics.

The fight to be Pelosi’s No. 2 has its odd dynamics. Hoyer is regarded as a centrist sort of Democrat. He’s no virgin when it comes to the institutional corruptions of House, readily hitting up corporate interests for campaign cash. But Hoyer has not been accused of ethical violations. Though Murtha advocates a get-out-of-Iraq-now position, he is a hawkish conservative who has attacked Hoyer for being too liberal.

By publicly endorsing Murtha–who has voted more with the Republicans than almost every other House Democrat–Pelosi has backed the fellow who has been less loyal to the party, who has engaged in liberal-baiting, and who is widely considered to be the underdog in the race. Murtha is indeed the Democrats’ leading critic of the war, and he and Pelosi, another war opponent, have found themselves in the same foxhole. (Hoyer, like Murtha, voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq, but he has not turned on the war and has criticized Democratic calls for withdrawal.) Perhaps Pelosi figured that with the Iraq war likely to be the major source of dispute between her and the White House (and congressional Republicans), she needed an antiwar hawk right by her side. But much of this present tussle might be more personal than policy. Pelosi and Hoyer have long been rivals; she defeated Hoyer to become the Democratic minority leader.

At this point, you might be asking yourself, why not ditch both bums and get somebody else? I don’t have an answer. You’ll have to ask someone who understands political infighting in the House.

But here are two ringing Murtha endorsements from bloggers I respect. First, Taylor Marsh:

Melanie Sloan of CREW talks about it being “shocking” that Murtha might be the number two person in leadership. Well, I wonder if Ms. Sloan would find it “shocking” walking in to a hospital room finding a soldier with his legs blown off and telling him that his brothers in arms had to redeploy a fifth time because Democrats didn’t have the muscle in the leadership to get us out of Iraq.

The ethics issues swirling aroung the Iraq war smell like a four year old dead carcass, but I don’t see anyone holding Bush or Cheney accountable or stopping them from running an undending war that went south a long time ago.


The real issue is that Murtha gets it. His information comes from the military and the top brass who couldn’t talk to Rumsfeld. They helped change his mind on the war. He hasn’t shut up since. …

… When Murtha stood up on the House floor almost one year ago he was met swiftly by the swiftboaters, who mounted a campaign against him all the way into election day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not holding Murtha up as some paragon of virtue. But he’s a hero on Iraq that brought us all to victory last Tuesday. Kids are dying and there is no good road through, no good choices. Murtha knows it and he can make the case. He can also stand up to anything Bush or anyone else offers up and do so forcefully.

But there is a deeper problem. It’s about Goldwater-Nichols and what happened to it under Rumsfeld’s watch. It was implemented after the failed Desert One mission to get our hostages out of Iran. But Rumsfeld’s arrogance and the fact that he ignored it is part of why we’re in this mess today, which likely led to the military going to Murtha and why he finally spoke out. Rumsfeld silenced the military and they had nowhere else to go, which had a chilling affect down the line. Rumsfeld broke the spirit of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, if not more.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act provides that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has a direct line of communication to the President. Rummy ignored that, Taylor says, and saw to it that Bush got only information that was filtered through him. And so the military went to Murtha.

The other Murtha endorsement comes from Steve Gilliard:

CREW is worried about earmarks, I’m worried about dead and wounded GI’s. I can see their point, I just don’t give a shit about it.

If they want to worry about earmarks, fine. But to me, I am sick and fucking tired of seeing teenagers getting their skulls replaced and learning to walk on artificial legs. I’m tired of PTSD stories from kids who aren’t old enough to rent a car. I am tired of seeing grieving parents collapsing at their teenager’s grave side.

If making Jack Murtha majority leader will make that clear, to Bush if no one else, that the priority is Iraq, and that the war MUST end, then I’m for Murtha or anyone else who can make that happen.

We’ve been complaining since 2002 that Dems are spineless on Iraq. I think the first order of business for Democrats in Congress is to unite on Iraq and push for a timely withdrawal. If the choice is between Murtha and Hoyer, and Hoyer might undermine that effort — and history says he will — then Murtha’s our man. We may very well revisit that decision once we’re out of Iraq. But let’s get out of Iraq first.

Update: See bolobiffin at Smirking Chimp.

Murtha’s got some problems with earmarking, but Pelosi also means to fix earmarking for good … How is she going to do it? By making her first agenda item a rule change that lawmakers who earmark be identified publicly … It is an intriguing one-two combination. By installing Murtha as her Majority Leader, and then making his weakest issue out of bounds for the incoming Congress, Pelosi is making a strong case to be the remedy for a hopelessly corrupt governmental culture. She is saying Game Over, and she means it.

The next two years are going to be interesting.

24 thoughts on “Murtha v. Hoyer

  1. Thanks for clarifying all that, Barbara. As a former recent resident of Maryland, I had been used to thinking of Hoyer as “our” dependable rock in government on most issues. As you point out, no one is free from political ambitions. I think you are correct in your conclusion. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I hope it doesn’t disrupt the party for long.

  2. I find it most fascinating that the Democratic leadership positions in the House are coming under such intense scrutiny in even corporatist media circles. I don’t seem to remember Boehner’s dirty laundry being hung out for all to view; likewise with any of the minority leadership. I also do not remember the media reporting a goddamned thing about Tom DeLay until the indictment’s broken and even though he’s one of the dirtiest sons of bitches to ever darken the doorway of the House (and that, my friends, is saying something).

    The more I think about this (and the intense scrutiny that is lavished on Pelosi’s pearls and Armani) the more pissed off I become.

    As for the Hoyer v. Murtha battle royale (with cheese?), it pains me to admit it but Gilliard is right. If Murtha is dirty, we can handle him later. Iraq is killing our kids now; it was killing them five minutes ago; and it will be killing them in five minutes’ time. For as long as we’re there. Hoyer seems like a twisty little shit and while I know Murtha is a lifelong politician, he at least doesn’t seem devious.

    In other news- I’m really taking a shine to Pelosi. I hope she gets a second in command that can help her do good things.

  3. Thank you so much for this background on Murtha and Hoyer. I also smell a rat amongst the corporate media concerning this dust-up. I have to admit, I fell for it at first since I’m sick and tired of corruption. However, the points made are sound regarding Murtha vs Hoyer so I have to come down now on Murtha’s side.

  4. I find it most fascinating that the Democratic leadership positions in the House are coming under such intense scrutiny in even corporatist media circles. I don’t seem to remember Boehner’s dirty laundry being hung out for all to view; likewise with any of the minority leadership.

    Snort. Well, yes, and part of the reason is that the Republicans have a well-oiled smear machine that cranks out “research” on Democrats for the benefit of news media. The Dems are not nearly as good at that. And of course the corporate-owned media doesn’t seem to be as harsh on its friends, does it?

    But another factor is that we leftie bloggers are willing to write honestly about all the warts and discuss them in public. I’ve run into a number of rightie blog posts today that sneer about how we lefties don’t know how dirty Murtha is and then describe the same dirt that I discussed in this post. If Murtha and Hoyer were Republicans, any mention of Murtha’s ethical lapses would be filed — by the same rightie bloggers — under “liberal media bias.”

  5. For me, the choice between the two begins and ends with Pelosi. I’m for Murtha because he’ll be Pelosi’s guy, and I want her to have the strongest hand possible going forward.

  6. Bush wants Iraq to be an ally in his war on terror. As it stands now, Iraq is not only his ally, but is his center piece. If we get out of Iraq… Bush will no longer have the fear of the unknown to hold us hostage with the terrorism monster and our departure will expose our distressful imaginings for what they really are. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is today peddling a domino theory of terrorism that will prevent us from leaving Iraq that is completely based on fear and the unknown. We just need to get out of Iraq and reapproach the situation that delvelopes with honesty and without the fear that is now crippling our decision making.

  7. Look, I think CREW has legitimate concerns (as I do) about Murtha, but I’ve posted at other blogs and I’ll post it here; when Jack Murtha started speaking out forcefully on Iraq, he personified what the Democratic Party should have been doing all along, being an opposition party. When Blitzer, Matthews and Russert started having him on frequently, I knew that we had found our man. Having Murtha as our leading spokesman will go a long way to dispelling the myth that we are the ‘defeatocrat’ party.

  8. Comments 5 and 7 say most of it for me. As much as I am to the left of Murtha on many positions, having Murtha as Majority Leader will do a lot for our party’s respect in the eyes of the Republicans, who we still have to work with.

    Agree especially wth comment 5, I especially want Pelosi to suceed and be able to play with a strong hand.

  9. For me and for many voters, if the exit polls are to be believed, Iraq and corruption are the two critical issues in the election. On both of these, Hoyer is on the other team.

  10. We don’t need Hoyer in a highly visible position trying to move his way up the ladder by selling out the Democratic party — we had Lieberman for that and we don’t need another. Murtha can at least handle the flack for his Iraq positions, and that’s a critical ability right now and probably for the next two years.

  11. Great picture, Maha. And, what a great and useful post that puts the important themes together in one place.

    As to the issue of rightie blogs piling on John Murtha, remember that they went ape-s–t when Murtha, doing his stand-up heroic speeches last year, touched off the countervailing actions that put the lie to their and Bush’s spin about Iraq.

    If for no other reason than that the righties have already so irresponsibly smeared Murtha and denigrated his military service, I would love to see them have to refer to him as ‘House Majority Leader Murtha’.

  12. I cannot believe that we just finished an election where corruption was a main theme, and we again are faced with someone in a room being offerred money for whatever; THEY DID NOT KNOW WHY THEY WERE THERE?? AND IF THEY DID NOT, IF THEY ARE THAT STUPID, DO WE WISH THEM TO REPRESENT US???

  13. Thanks, Barbara for giving balanced information, then weighing in with a judgement. It would be a HUGE strategic error to saddle Nancy P with a second, who has it in for her.

    Hoyer seems to have bought the Tom Delay playbook. I did not get it for a long time. Politicians think that Congressman Jefferson was wrong; corrupt and unethical and in violation of the law because he exchanged influence for money they found in his freezer. Had it been the same money, for the same political favor, and it had wound up in his campaign funds, most Congressman and Senators would feel the transaction was legal, ethical and normal.

    Here professional politicians and ‘normal’ people part company. If you peddle influence, passing bad laws in exchange for money, it’s corrupt, whether the money winds up in your pocket or your campaign chest. Congress writes the law, so it’s legal – therefore ethical – if the bribe is given to the campaign war chest. We need to get a handle on K Street lobbyists, who have become a 4th branch of government. If Hoyer has put out a “For Sale” sign directing K Street to his office, he needs to get slapped down HARD.

  14. How do we get out of Iraq?

    Simple stop making excuses for Zion. Start making solutions for our world. Simple stop making small talk with religion, start solving real problems. Stop feeding the corporate beast, start feeding yourself. Stop being stupid!


  15. Can anyone help with this question? Was Murtha actually named an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in the Abscam investigation 26 years ago?
    When I tried to find an answer to that question by googling, all I could come up with was lots of right-wing sites that use that phrase to define Murtha. But when I scanned some actual news items, those I found only say he was one of eight congresscritters who were videotaped being offered bribes, and that Murtha was the only one who did not take a bribe.
    I know the videotape of Murtha being targeted by ‘bribers’ shows him ‘leaving a door open’, as they say…..but that doesn’t necessarily translate to ‘unindicted co-conspirator’, IMHO.
    If anyone could clarify this with actual information from past records, thanks.

  16. Quote:
    “At this point, you might be asking yourself, why not ditch both bums and get somebody else? I don’t have an answer. You’ll have to ask someone who understands political infighting in the House.”

    You really threw in the towel on that one, Barb. Ditching both bums, I’m afraid, is really the only good choice. There are more members out there who are solid on the issue of getting us out of Iraq but aren’t so tainted by ethics problems. It’s still a mystery to this day how Murtha got out of the Abscam fiasco with his skin intact and his seat in Congress. Those old videotapes alone should be reason enough not to put him in as Majority Leader when one of the big issues we went to bat for in the last election was ethics.

    And Hoyer? Please. He’s already on too many K-street payrolls. It’s time for Pelosi to put some fresh blood with a cleaner background in the top slots. That would show that the Dems are really interested in cleaning up the GOP’s mess and that we’re not in for two more years of the same old same old, except with a “D” replacing the “R” in every story of corruption.

  17. Thanks, Maha. Maybe I can get the answer to the question through the WaPo. Here’s my posted comment which I just placed there:

    “Ruth Marcus, you are a columnist, and not an investigative reporter, but I assume that your column is vetted for accuracy. I am having difficulty actually finding a source which offers any evidence that the term unindicted co-conspirator is an accurate label for Mr. Murtha in the Abscam matter of 26 years ago. All I have found so far is a lot of echoing of that label on political right-wing sites. Would you please offer your readers an actual legal reference for that label? Thanks”

  18. Jazz — “You really threw in the towel on that one, Barb.”

    I don’t have a “towel” in this fight to throw in. The only people who get a say in who wins are Democrats in the House, and for whatever reason the choices are Murtha and Hoyer, and that’s it. We don’t get a vote, and there’s no point wasting time discussing options that aren’t going to happen.

    That would show that the Dems are really interested in cleaning up the GOP’s mess and that we’re not in for two more years of the same old same old, except with a “D” replacing the “R” in every story of corruption.

    If House rules change as Pelosi promises to change them, then you will be wrong. And the GOP thanks you for repeating their talking points and giving up before the fight has even started.

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  20. Yes, if I was forced to choose between Murtha and Hoyer I would go with Murtha, mainly because I think the corrupting influence of money is the biggest problem in government today and Hoyer has sold his soul to K street.

    But I am not forced to choose between them so I would go with an honest, sincere rep. like Dave Obey or Nick Rahall. They have been there forever, are good people and have no dirt on them. They are not all corrupt in the house maha, it just so happens the one you are supporting is.

    After Murtha wins it will be next to impossible to argue with right wingers about corruption. They will just say “yeh, what about Murtha”.

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  22. Uh, Paul, just want to remind you that Murtha’s integrity and the solidness of the Democratic leaders will become ‘issues’ partly because the righties want those things to become issues. Scan the memorandum sites and you will find lots of righties jumping on these topics for the purpose of screeching and spinning and dissembling.
    Feel into these things on your own, rather than get jerked around by dissemblers….and put things into a broader perspective about human foibles. For example, a 26 year old questionable ethics matter about Murtha gets the big screech play by the righties who choose to totally ignore that their major GOP ’08 presidential candidate [McCain] was directly and unethically involved in the Keating Five scandal less than 26 years ago.

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