Is Pelosi Punch Drunk With Power? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Don't drink the punch

I'll admit that I have never been a big fan of Nancy Pelosi. During the campaign preceding the 2006 elections, I found her remarks in numerous interviews to lack certainty and her answers were filled with hesitancy...she just didn't seem to have a good handle on how the Democrats intended to proceed if they were to win control of the House or the Senate.

Notwithstanding, in the first few days after the election she seemed to have found her stride and I found myself reconsidering my view of the Speaker-to-be. Her statements were clear and I felt she was setting the right tone for the Democrats to position themselves as hard-working, roll up your sleeves public servants intent on bringing the changes that the election results clearly demanded.

Unfortunately, within another few days my opinion has changed once again as it now appears that Pelosi has found her way to the ever dangerous punch bowl that is filled with that magical potion called power...and her actions with regard to the selection of the House Majority Leader suggest that she has been over served. Let me be clear. I have no problem with Pelosi endorsing Murtha as a matter of loyalty...but she appears to be intent on making this leadership election her first foray into the politics of power. In my opinion, her actions in that regard are a mistake and they are apt to undo the goodwill she likely gained in the immediate aftermath of the midterm election.

As I browsed the news in the last couple days, there was ample evidence of the damage being done by this apparent effort to wield power. Pelosi's willingness to make an issue of Murtha's quest to become the Majority Leader is undermining her assurances to the American people that this 110th Congress would be about integrity and would begin the process of "draining the swamp". Take a look at what is being written about Murtha in the Washington Post and in the Opinion Journal.

From The Washington Post:

The videotape is grainy, dark and devastating. The congressman and the FBI undercover agents -- the congressman thinks they represent an Arab sheik willing to pay $50,000 to get immigration papers -- are talking business in the living room of a secretly wired Washington townhouse.

Two other congressmen in on the deal "do expect to be taken care of," the lawmaker says. But for the time being -- and he says repeatedly that he might change his mind and take money down the road -- he'd rather trade his help for investment in his district, maybe a hefty deposit in the bank of a political supporter who's done him favors.

"I'm not interested -- at this point," he says of the dangled bribe. "You know, we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won't, you know." Indeed, he acknowledges, even though he needs to be careful -- "I expect to be in the [expletive] leadership of the House," he notes -- the money's awfully tempting. "It's hard for me to say, just the hell with it."

This is John Murtha, incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi's choice to be her majority leader, snared but not charged in the Abscam probe in 1980. "The Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history," Pelosi pledged on election night. Five days later she wrote Murtha a letter endorsing his bid to become her No. 2.

I don't dislike John Murtha. In fact, he was instrumental in steering the country towards a discussion about the benefits of a prolonged presence in Iraq without the potential for meaningful results. Nonetheless, his history as a Congressman who has played the margins with regards to influence peddling only serves to hurt Pelosi's credibility. That is not to say Murtha is guilty of any significant ethical offenses or that the opposition isn't exaggerating his questionable activities...but if Pelosi is as smart as many think she is this is one ill-chosen fight. Take a look at John Fund's efforts to spin the Murtha situation into a major issue.

From The Opinion Journal:

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi's endorsement of Rep. John Murtha for majority leader, the No. 2 position in the Democratic leadership, has roiled her caucus. "She will ensure that they [Mr. Murtha and his allies] win. This is hardball politics," Rep. Jim Moran, a top Murtha ally, told the Hill, a congressional newspaper. "We are entering an era where when the speaker instructs you what to do, you do it."

But several members are privately aghast that Mr. Murtha, a pork-barreling opponent of most House ethics reforms, could become the second most visible symbol of the new Democratic rule. "We are supposed to change business as usual, not put the fox in charge of the henhouse," one Democratic member told me. "It's not just the Abscam scandal of the 1980s that he barely dodged, he's a disaster waiting to happen because of his current behavior," another told me.

Melanie Sloan, the liberal head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was cheered on by Democrats six weeks ago when she helped reveal the Mark Foley scandal. Now she says that "Ms. Pelosi’s endorsement of Rep. Murtha, one of the most unethical members of Congress, show that she may have prioritized ethics reform merely to win votes with no real commitment to changing the culture of corruption."

In contrast to Sen. John McCain, whose experience in the 1990 Keating Five scandal turned him into a good-government reformer, Mr. Murtha's brush with infamy stirred in him a conviction that members of Congress deserve more protection from ethics probes. In 1997 Mr. Murtha joined with Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican, in blocking outside groups and private citizens from filing complaints directly with the House Ethics Committee.
Mr. Murtha also pushed for a law that would require the Justice Department to reimburse the legal bills of any member of Congress it investigated if it was shown the probe was not "substantially justified"--a privilege no other American enjoyed. Only after Henry Hyde, then chairman of the Judiciary Committee objected was the bill amended to allow reimbursement for anyone--member of Congress or not--acquitted in a "bad faith" prosecution.

Gary Ruskin, director of the liberal Congressional Accountability Project, told Roll Call that "when it comes to institutional policing of corruption in Congress, John Murtha is a one-man wrecking crew." Now with the support of Ms. Pelosi, that "wrecking crew" stands just one ballot away from becoming House majority leader. Should he win the sealed-ballot election of his peers tomorrow, Democrats may have a hard time explaining just what has changed regarding the Congress's "culture of corruption."

I just don't get it. Many have said that Pelosi is a very loyal person and John Murtha has proven his loyalty to Pelosi in the past and that required she reciprocate. I'm sorry but we just concluded an election that repudiated a President who many Democrats said was blindly loyal to numerous incompetent and wrong thinking associates. Why would Nancy Pelosi make her first act a carbon copy of all that Democrats found wrong with a circle-the-wagons presidency? Even if one sets aside the loyalty factor it would be difficult to understand the benefits of Pelosi drawing a line in the sand on Murtha being the Majority Leader.

Given that many Pelosi detractors argue that she is to the far left ideologically, the Murtha endorsement is being used to portray her as adamant that we withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible without consideration for the risks to our national security. The fact that Pelosi doesn't intend to appoint Jane Harmon to chair the House Intelligence Committee further supports that contention. I am not suggesting that I agree with those who seek to paint Pelosi as an anti-war liberal...I am merely pointing out that her actions may be used to advance that assertion.

There is no doubt that every move made by Pelosi will garner scrutiny and the GOP will seek to discredit her and the Democrats at every turn. With that said, it is imperative that Pelosi and the Democrats avoid providing the opposition with the fodder to fuel such efforts. I don't know definitively why Pelosi has chosen to engage in a very public power struggle so early into her leadership role...but it doesn't do much to advance the agenda she and the Democrats have indicated they will pursue. While she hasn't asked for my advice, I would simply suggest that Nancy Pelosi step away from the punch bowl.

Daniel DiRito | November 15, 2006 | 8:18 AM
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