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.”
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.