Democrats returned to Capitol Hill on Monday to prepare for a transfer of power in Congress, but their postelection emphasis on unity quickly dissolved into power struggles and jockeying over the spoils of victory.The selection of Murtha is casting doubt on Pelosi's promise to restore integrity to Congress:
Much of the squabbling stemmed from the decision over the weekend by presumed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to endorse a longtime loyalist to be her second-in-command. In backing Iraq war critic Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania for the post, Pelosi, of San Francisco, turned her back on another Democrat who is in line for the job and is favored by many of her party's more moderate members.
In her first high-profile move after the election, Pelosi signaled that she can be expected to prize personal loyalty as she oversees the fractious party.
Some argued that by publicly siding with Murtha, Pelosi could undercut one of her boldest pronouncements in the wake of her party's victory — that they would run "the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history."Ruth Marcus over at the Washington Post explains why:
These critics point to Murtha's brush with the law in the 1980s, when he was investigated in connection with the Abscam bribery scandal on Capitol Hill. He was cleared in that probe, but some watchdog groups have continued to question his ethics. As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Murtha has been an unapologetic master of "earmarking" money for local projects — a practice the critics say invites corruption."
John Murtha is not the right poster child" for a message that stresses ethics, said Thomas Mann, an expert on Congress at the centrist Brookings Institution think tank.
The Democrats haven't even taken power yet and Pelosi's already energizing Republican electoral prospects for 2008. Be sure to check out the lengthy discussion of House Democrats' ethical baggage over at Patterico's Pontifications.
For years Murtha has relied on the Abscam bottom line to argue that the case is not a problem for him: He wasn't indicted. But he was named a co-conspirator in the bribery scheme. The feckless House ethics committee didn't take action against him, though the outside investigator it hired quit in disgust after the panel rejected his recommendation to file misconduct charges.
"I am the guy that didn't take the money," Murtha said this summer when his opponent raised the issue.
Yes, but: He's the guy who, brought into the deal by two other House members -- Frank Thompson (D-N.J.) and John Murphy (D-N.Y.) -- agreed to meet with men offering money in return for official action. He's the guy who knew these two colleagues expected a payoff and even vouched for them with the would-be bribers ("Both of them are solid.").
He's the guy who, when offered a bribe, still wanted to do a deal. "I'm delighted to do business with him and do every goddamn thing I can within bounds, you know, so I don't get myself in jail, in order to get him into the country and whatever needs to be done," he says on the video, unearthed by the conservative American Spectator...He's the guy who -- as a member of the House ethics committee-- did nothing to stop the scheme.
Sorry, but I'm not buying Murtha's argument that he's the victim of a "Swift-boating attack" over "unfounded allegations that occurred 26 years ago." On its own, Murtha's Abscam conduct is disqualifying.