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. 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.
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. 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.
As bad as Pelosi's attempt at putting Murtha in the Majority Leader's job was, I think her decision to put Hastings in as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is even worse. Hastings, a former federal judge, was impeached by a Democratic-controlled House and convicted by the Democratic-controlled Senate for allegedly taking bribes and committing perjury in the late 1980s. The Black Caucus pushed his appointment over the senior Democratic member of the committee, Rep. Jane Harmon. This has produced outrage from many corners. "Should Pelosi actually follow through and give Hastings the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee, it would turn the House of Representatives into Theater of the Absurd," Mary Laney wrote for the Chicago-Sun Times. Jim Kouri, writing for the Post Chronicle, says that the "idea of putting this sleazebag in a position where he would be privy to the most sensitive national security secrets is untenable."
The Raw Story reported that Pelosi had personal animus towards Harmon because she had not been sufficiently critical of the Bush administration. As NBC's Andrea Mitchell explained, "Pelosi believes Harman "hasn't been tough enough on the Bush administration, on intelligence issues, that she wasn’t, that she was too moderate, too centrist, even though she is the most credible Democrat on all of these issues and has a national following and it is a really nasty fight among two powerful congresswomen."