Advocate for federal employees wins House leadership post

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is a steadfast supporter of civil servants and their causes, including military-civilian pay parity.

Handing House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a significant loss even before she assumes the office, Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Thursday trounced Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania in the race for majority leader on a 149-86 vote.

But Pelosi told reporters following the elections that the Caucus would remain unified. "As I said to my colleagues, as we say in church, let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with us. Let the healing begin," said Pelosi, who has a strained relationship with Hoyer. Hoyer said that while he and Murtha have had their differences, Murtha would continue to play an important role as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Federal employee groups were buoyed by Hoyer's win. His Maryland constituency includes many federal employees and he supports their causes, including the annual fight for pay parity between civilians and members of the military.

"Although there are dozens of federal friendly lawmakers, a small number of them go to extraordinary lengths to support the interests of the federal community," said Margaret Baptiste, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. "Congressman Hoyer has been one of those champions and that's why we are especially happy that he has been elected."

Presidents of the two largest federal employee labor unions -- the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union - also said they were pleased with Hoyer's victory.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley called Hoyer a "key player on federal employee issues" and AFGE's President John Gage said Hoyer "has been a great friend to AFGE and we look forward to working with him in his new capacity."

The race for the majority leader post heated up after Pelosi endorsed Murtha this week, raising doubts about Hoyer's ability to hold onto his supporters. But Hoyer's backing held up in the face of a concerted effort by Pelosi's lieutenants to twist arms, with Pelosi reaching out to individual lawmakers herself.

Hoyer's victory immediately raised questions about potential problems between a politically injured Pelosi and emboldened Hoyer. "I think it was a mistake on her part to get heavily involved in this race," said Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida, a member of the moderate-to-conservative Blue Dog Coalition, two-thirds of which publicly backed Hoyer.

Both Pelosi and Hoyer took pains after the vote to stress their intent to work together. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a Hoyer supporter, said the elections would have no significant impact.

"She's a very smart woman who made a mistake in judgment," Frank said. "I honestly think you will not see any problems whatsoever." Frank added that he believes Hoyer's strong support boiled down to a couple of factors including that Murtha represents an older tradition in the House and the general sense that Hoyer would be a better public representative for the Caucus.

Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, who helped run Murtha's campaign for leader and predicted his victory, said it was clear his side did not get support from most of the incoming freshmen -- and asserted the Murtha team was lied to by some members who had indicated support in the secret-ballot race. He noted that Murtha's camp has "a pretty good idea" who those members are and suggested they are untrustworthy.

Moran added that incoming freshmen who supported Hoyer may find problems in getting their committee assignments. "It remains to be seen if their wished-for committee assignments are fulfilled," Moran said.

Democrats unanimously elected Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois as Caucus chairman, with Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson of Connecticut re-elected to his current position and Democratic Caucus Chairman James Clyburn of South Carolina elected as majority whip.

Members of the Democratic Caucus are scheduled to meet again later today to elect the 12 regional representatives for the Steering and Policy Committee, which oversees the official selection of committee chairmen and members.

Karen Rutzick and Jenny Mandel of contributed to this report.