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House Democrats choose Pelosi as first female speaker, rebuff her to choose Hoyer as No. 2

WASHINGTON — Democrats embraced Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the first woman House speaker in history on Thursday, then quickly snubbed her, selecting Steny Hoyer of Maryland as majority leader against her wishes.
    ‘‘Let the healing begin,’’ Pelosi, D-Calif., said after Hoyer had eased past her preferred candidate, Rep. John Murtha, a prominent opponent of the war in Iraq. The secret-ballot vote for Hoyer was 149-86. She was chosen by acclamation.
    Added Hoyer, a 25-year veteran of Congress: ‘‘The Republicans need to know, the president needs to know and the country needs to know our caucus is unified today.’’
    Hoyer, Murtha and several other Democrats predicted there would be no lingering effects from the bruising leadership campaign as the party looks ahead to taking control of the House in January after a dozen years in the minority.
    Not everyone sounded convinced, though. ‘‘It created these tensions that we now have to work on,’’ said Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, a Hoyer supporter.
    Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who backed Murtha, said some members of the rank-and-file had told both rival camps to count them as supporters. ‘‘We know who they are,’’ he said, although he later added that many of them were lawmakers whose victories on Nov. 7 gave Democrats their majority.
    ‘‘If they’re freshmen, they get a pass on this one,’’ he said.
    Democrats chose their leaders for the next two years as lawmakers in both houses labored to wrap up work for the expiring 109th Congress and look ahead to the 110th, which convenes on Jan. 4.
    House Republicans hold elections on Friday, with a two-way race for minority leader.
    Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the current majority leader, faces a challenge from Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. A third contender, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, dropped out of the race and endorsed Boehner.
    Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the incumbent GOP whip, also drew an opponent, Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona.
    Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has decided to step down from leadership in the wake of his party’s election defeat.
    Pelosi, 66, faced neither challenger nor controversy in her own race to become the Democrats’ choice for speaker — and the first woman in history — after four years as party leader.
    Her ascension awaits a vote by the full House on Jan. 4, the opening day of the new Congress.
    ‘‘We made history and now we will make progress for the American people,’’ the Californian told fellow Democrats moments after her selection in the closed meeting, according to officials familiar with her remarks.
    She pledged that after 12 years in the minority, ‘‘we will not be dazzled by money and special interests.’’
    A veteran of nearly two decades in Congress, Pelosi raised more than $50 million for the party’s candidates and committees over the past two years. In her time as minority leader, she was credited with molding an often-fractious rank-and-file into a unified force opposing the conservative agenda advanced by President Bush and congressional Republicans.
    The race between Hoyer and Murtha was tinged with the residue of a leadership election five years ago. Pelosi defeated Hoyer then to become the party’s whip, with Murtha as her campaign manager.
    Hoyer, 67, was the front-runner from the start in the current race for majority leader after having served as second-ranking in the leadership for four years. Like Pelosi, he campaigned widely and raised millions for fellow Democrats in the run-up to the congressional elections.
    On Sunday Pelosi stepped forcefully into the race — out of loyalty to Murtha, her allies said. She issued a letter of support for him, praising him for having called a year ago for an end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
    ‘‘I salute your courageous leadership that changed the national debate and helped make Iraq the central issue of this historic election,’’ she wrote.
    Four days later, behind closed doors, she lauded Murtha for having altered the course of the campaign debate on the war and said it was in part responsible for the Democrats’ electoral victories. She urged fellow Democrats to elect him majority leader to help her change the course of the war.
    Hoyer countered with nominating speeches from three lawmakers from Pelosi’s state of California, Reps. Henry Waxman, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Dennis Cardoza.
    Cardoza, who earlier had made a nominating speech for Pelosi, then urged fellow Democrats to pick Hoyer despite her wishes to the contrary. He said the two had been a team and would continue to be a team, and he added, ‘‘Have the courage to do what you know is right.’’
    Murtha is a former Marine, widely respected for his knowledge of defense issues and now in line to become chairman of the subcommittee with control over the Pentagon budget. His bid for the leadership led critics to recall the Abscam bribery scandal of 1980, an FBI sting operation that sent some lawmakers to jail. Murtha was never charged in the case, despite a videotape that showed him being offered $50,000. ‘‘I’m not interested ... at this point,’’ he said.
    On Thursday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said Hoyer’s victory was due in part to gratitude lawmakers felt at his campaign efforts. ‘‘Along with Nancy and Rahm, Steny deserves a lot of credit for getting us here.’’ Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois served as chairman of the party’s House campaign committee and was rewarded Thursday with the caucus chair post, the No. 4 position.
    The Democrats also selected James Clyburn of South Carolina as majority whip, their No. 3 post. He is the second black lawmaker in history to reach as high as a party whip. William Gray of Pennsylvania held the same title 1989-91.
    Other Democrats evaluated Pelosi’s decision to take sides.
    ‘‘She’s a very smart woman who made an error in judgment,’’ said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
    Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin added, ‘‘She’s gutsy as hell and she’s willing to take a chance.’’

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