Friday, November 17, 2006

Speaker Pelosi Tempts Disaster

NYT reports Nancy Pelosi has managed to severely scar her leadership even before taking up the gavel as the new speaker of the House. First, she played politics with the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee to settle an old score and a new debt.

Josephine Hearn wrote in The Hill Eighteen members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative House Democrats, wrote Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Thursday imploring her to choose Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) to chair the House Intelligence Committee next year. "Congresswoman Harman has served as Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee with skill and distinction. ... She has helped lead the bipartisan reorganization and reform of our intelligence community and has served as a strong voice for Congressional oversight of the Administration and its national security policies," wrote Reps. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and others. "Both our Caucus and Party have counted on Congresswoman Harman to answer forcefully and credibly to partisan critics who have questioned Democrats’ commitment to protecting our nation." Harman currently serves as the top Democrat on the panel. Yet, Pelosi has all but said she will select another member as chair. Is Pelosi smart enough to do that? I doubt it.
And then she put herself in a lose-lose position by trying to force a badly tarnished ally, Representative John Murtha, on the incoming Democratic Congress as majority leader. The party caucus put a decisive end to that gambit yesterday, giving the No. 2 job to Steny Hoyer, a longtime Pelosi rival.
If the Democratic Caucus had any sense, they would have made Hoyer the Speaker, and given the Majority Leader position to some other Moderate, rather than leaving Pelosi in the position with most power.
But Ms. Pelosi’s damage to herself was already done. The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see — from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. The resurrected tape — feasted upon by Pelosi enemies — shows how Mr. Murtha narrowly survived as an unindicted co-conspirator, admittedly tempted but finally rebuffing a bribe offer: “I’m not interested — at this point.” Mr. Murtha would have been a farcical presence in a leadership promising the cleanest Congress in history. Ms. Pelosi should have been first to realize this, having made such a fiery campaign sword of her vows to end Capitol corruption.
When she said she wanted to totally remove all earmarks I had hope she might not be that bad, but by pushing Murtha, the king of Democratic earmarks, who said the reform legislation was crap, shows me she really does not mean it.
Instead, she acted like some old-time precinct boss and lost the first test before her peers. As incoming speaker, Ms. Pelosi will be dogged by skepticism — from within the party and without — about her political smarts and her ability to deliver a galvanized agenda. It was a no-brainer for the caucus to end the misguided fight for Mr. Murtha, who belittled the need for reform. Now the pressure is even greater for Speaker-elect Pelosi to recover by leading the House to something actually worth fighting for — starting with credible anticorruption strictures. For this she needs gaffe-wary advisers, among them Mr. Hoyer, who has his own questionable record of flourishing in big-money politics. The new majority — led by a presumably wiser speaker — must realize by now that intramural vendetta is hardly a substitute for productive government.

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