Inside Washington's Headlines

by Ken Feltman

Radnor Inc.

December 2006

 

Legislative insight

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Ken Feltman is Chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and legislative relations firm in Washington, D.C. He is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists.

 

 

 

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Bring on the Democrats?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell supposedly cautioned President Bush before the invasion of Iraq that the pottery shop rule applied: Break it, you own it. Well, it?s broken - but the Democrats, not the president, may now own it.

In a similar sense, Speaker-Designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) owns the House. If she breaks it, she owns it.

Just who is Nancy Pelosi? If people are known by their friends, we can make an early judgment about her and her speakership. This judgment has nothing to do with her voting record or stance on the issues. It has everything to do with her leadership skills and her judgment in selecting people to lead the Democratic Party and Congress. Pelosi got off to a difficult start when she tried to purge Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) from the Democratic House leadership. She publicly backed Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for majority leader and lost badly (149-86). Murtha has skeletons in his closet, some going back to the Abscam scandal in the early 1980s, when he was caught on videotape seemingly deferring acceptance of bribe money till a later date.

Unindicted co-conspirator

The Justice Department named him an unindicted co-conspirator in the subsequent prosecution. One Senator, six Congressmen, the mayor of Camden, N.J., several Philadelphia officials and an official from the Immigration and Naturalization Service were convicted and resigned or were removed from office. House ethics rules require members to report immediately any bribe offers to the FBI. Murtha did not. In July 1981, the House Ethics Committee voted against filing charges against Murtha, following a mostly party line vote.

Murtha is an able politician who has routinely delivered federal dollars to his economically depressed district. The videotape clearly shows Murtha offering information in exchange for the potential bribe but also shows that Murtha was angling for investment in his district that would bring up to 1000 jobs to his constituents. Voters rallied behind Murtha. Recently, he has made news by calling for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Because of Abscam, however, he has always been considered damaged goods as a party leader. But Pelosi risked, and lost, her leadership prestige by backing Murtha.

Why? Because she loathes Steny Hoyer. But Hoyer is a better vote counter, it seems. His pre-election estimate of his total was right on the button: 149. After the vote, Pelosi looked quite uncomfortable facing the television cameras with the smiling Hoyer alongside. Murtha stomped out. A Murtha backer commented that some Democrats had promised Murtha their vote, then actually voted for Hoyer.

Another Democratic congressman who backed Murtha said: 'We know who the traitors are and we will deal with them.' He was joined by a Pelosi staffer who vowed retribution on those who reneged. The Washington Post wrote that in calling for retribution, one Pelosi supporter revealed his 'inner-thug.' Hoyer played down the differences and any possible revenge.

The Pelosi-Hoyer bad blood goes way back. Ken Feltman wrote about the origins in March 2005. You may read that report - Favors, Friendships and Fears - by clicking here.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Cal.) represents a well-to-do district along the Pacific in greater Los Angeles. She is the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee and was expected to move up to chair the committee now that the Democrats control the House. She will not. At this point, Pelosi seems intent to force Harman to leave the committee.

Why? Pelosi?s office has been busy spreading word of an investigation into possible improper promises between the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Harman. Supposedly, Harman may have traded favors to Israel in exchange for AIPAC support for the chairmanship on the committee. Interestingly, the AIPAC investigation is presumed by many Democrats to be a sour-grapes vendetta of Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), outgoing chair of the Intelligence Committee, because Harman released information damaging to former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Cal.), who was convicted and jailed this year in a bribery case. The FBI probe of Harman gives Pelosi cover to deny the chair to Harman.

Grudge match

The real reason? Pelosi has a grudge against Harman. She resents the media exposure that Harman has received as the lead Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. She resents Harman?s independent streak. She cannot get Harman to swear complete loyalty. So Harman must go. Even the New York Times, which has supported Pelosi consistently in her internecine battles, wrote that Pelosi 'played politics with the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee to settle an old score.'

How far will Pelosi go to settle an old score? Her first choice to head the committee may tell us.

Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) was Pelosi?s choice. He was elected to Congress in 1992 following his impeachment and removal from office for corruption, bribery and perjury while he was a judge of a Florida circuit court and the U.S. District Court for Florida?s Southern District.

Hastings was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1989 and was convicted by the U.S. Senate. Both the House and Senate were then controlled by Democrats. He was the sixth judge in U.S. history to be removed from office by the Senate, which also had the power to forbid Hastings from ever seeking federal office again. The Senate did not do so and Hastings began his campaign for Congress. He also appealed his removal but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over Senate impeachment matters, and Hastings' conviction and removal were upheld.

Hastings is now a member of the Democratic House leadership as Senior Democratic Whip. He is a member of the powerful House Rules Committee and the second ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

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Colorful, controversial and sometimes accused of racism, Hastings is an outspoken member of the Congressional Black Caucus. His fellow Democrats use words such as 'confrontational' and 'opinionated' to describe his style in Intelligence Committee work. Republicans say he is 'arbitrary' and 'partisan.' Despite this, he was Pelosi?s choice to head the Intelligence Committee.

Then, as Harman fought back and a few members of the Black Caucus privately let it be known that they objected to being 'railroaded' into supporting Hastings, Pelosi backed off. Supposedly, she told Hastings that he should 'make a case' for his selection. He went public with an aggressive campaign in the media and among House Democrats.

Meantime, first one by one, then in small groups, Democratic House members asked Pelosi to reconsider. She agreed, and attempted to extract promises of support for another, unidentified choice, making clear that Harman would not be that choice. When she had enough promises to be sure that she could bypass Harman, she told Hasting that he was finished. He withdrew, feeling used and misled by Pelosi. Harman continued to fight behind the scenes. Pelosi made enemies of both Harman and Hastings and still could not be sure that Harman was disposed of.

Bad timing in an unforgiving field

Throughout her career, Pelosi has practiced the retribution game. This time, she played and lost with Hoyer, who can now be counted as an enemy, and played and seems to have beaten Harman and Hastings, who are now enemies. Unfortunately, coming at the very beginning of her tenure as speaker, this was a bad time to lose and to make enemies. I have written before that politics can be a very unforgiving field. An early mistake can dog a politician forever. President Bush's early failure to understand that he needed to get on the ground, wade into the water and show leadership in the Katrina tragedy, cost him and Republicans dearly.

This early misstep in the Hoyer-Murtha contest may well cost Pelosi, not because she backed the wrong candidate but because she got involved at all and because her motives were so full of personal animosity. Who will be so willing to follow Pelosi now?

The elections

Radnor's American Conflict Index performed well in identifying early that most voters, regardless of party, were fed up with President Bush's seeming lack of competence, especially in Iraq. The Index also concluded that the attitudes of U.S. decision-makers and leaders were in step with the attitudes of average Americans. Both groups were wary of giving Bush any reason to believe that his policies were vindicated by the election results.

The Republicans are correct when they say that they would have maintained control of the House and Senate had about 77,000 Americans changed their votes. But the result was a blow-out. Most close races tipped to the Democratic candidate.

Ken Feltman had a better-than-average record among Republicans. His candidates for the House won three of four races, including two in Ohio where the Democrats swept most offices but were surprised that they could not dislodge the two Republicans, who retained their House seats against the tide. His big failure was in Missouri's Senate race where the Democrat upset the incumbent Republican.

'The Democratic wave was about as big as I expected but the Republicans did not get out to vote in the numbers expected in key races. In Virginia, for example, several thousand Republicans voted for other offices but seem to have left the Senate race blank. In Missouri, a few thousand Republicans voted for the Democratic candidate for Senate or left the Senate contest blank. That tipped the election. Republican voters just could not bring themselves to vote for the Republican candidate,' Feltman said.

Pelosi violated an old and basic rule of politics: When you strike at the king, you had better kill the king. Hoyer lives and will sit at the Democratic leadership table with Pelosi and the other Democratic leaders. He has a lot of friends, as the vote showed. Many freshman Democrats are angry that the Pelosi-Murtha campaign team threatened some newly elected Democrats with bad committee assignments or cramped office space if they failed to support Murtha. Hoyer is already busy getting that story out to the media by telling people that he does not think that Pelosi will go 'that far' in punishing the Democratic newcomers.

One Democratic Congresswoman who supported Pelosi told me, 'This is awful. Nancy looked just like a high school girl, vindictive and a loser in the end. Every man?s negative impression of how incapable women are as leaders was displayed here. I feel betrayed as a woman and as a Democrat.'

Self-inflicted wound

Maybe it isn't that bad. But it isn't a good start. Pelosi's self-inflicted wound will make everyone question her political judgment, her ability to count votes and her penchant for pettiness. All in all, a lot of people will start to keep their distance from her while they watch to see if she keeps making basic mistakes. And Steny Hoyer, engaging and inclusive, may be just one more Pelosi mistake away from pulling her down.

A Democratic Congressman put it bluntly: 'The people she's supported are not as qualified as the people she's opposed. They have all sorts of baggage. She's made enemies when she could have made friends. I'd hate to have Steny as an enemy. Now she's made him as big an enemy as you can have. People on both sides of the aisle respect him. People will gather behind him, not her.' Then he shook his head and said, 'What was she thinking?'

Thinking? Perhaps she was settling scores.

 


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