The majority leader

November 17, 2006

From a purely parochial point of view, yesterday's lopsided election of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer as House majority leader is a great day for Maryland. Fewer than two dozen men have served in that influential post since 1899. Mr. Hoyer is the first from this state, and the potential benefits to Maryland are obvious. But it's also a welcome development from a national perspective. The new leader is an effective and accomplished legislator who has built a loyal following in his party. His ascendancy gives hope that the next Congress won't get mired in legislative gridlock and may actually accomplish something over the next two years.

Critics were quick to label Mr. Hoyer's selection as an embarrassing defeat for House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi. She had actively pushed for Rep. John P. Murtha, the veteran Pennsylvania congressman whose early call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq has proved to be a seminal moment for Democrats. But Mr. Hoyer's 149-86 victory was not necessarily a repudiation of the speaker. These were also votes for Mr. Hoyer, who has long had a gift for building coalitions. And his support yesterday was no different - it included moderates, members of leadership and a majority of the incoming freshmen he helped get elected.

There's no question that Mr. Murtha's is an important voice in the debate over U.S. policy in Iraq. But his stated opposition to the Democrats' lobbying and campaign finance reform package (to say nothing of his not-forgotten role in the Abscam investigation) would have sent the wrong message, particularly after Ms. Pelosi's pledge to have the "most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history."

Much has been made of Ms. Pelosi's apparent disdain for Mr. Hoyer since the two faced off in a contentious campaign for the post of minority whip six years ago. And it was certainly unusual for her to lobby so hard and so publicly for her candidate. But leadership decisions can be messy, and Mr. Hoyer's promotion was hardly shocking, given that he served two terms as Democratic whip. It followed the customary line of succession.

Yesterday, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer said that they have put it all behind them and that the caucus is unified. Perhaps it is. We suggest the two share a meal, preferably in Baltimore's Little Italy, where Ms. Pelosi grew up and learned the fine art of political deal making from her father, Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. We're certain he would be very proud.

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