From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
On a day when Nancy Pelosi took the first of two official steps toward becoming the first-ever woman Speaker of the House, she also took a self-inflicted political hit when her endorsed candidate for majority leader went down in defeat after a bitter contest that has temporarily cast a shadow over Democrats' plans for ethics reform, split the caucus, and left some hard feelings. Pelosi friends and allies say her decision to weigh in so heavily for old friend John Murtha shows her emphasis on loyalty, but that raises the question of whether loyalty could occasionally make her tone-deaf (a question that also comes up once in awhile about decision-making at other end of Pennsylvania Avenue).
House Republicans take their turn filling leadership slots today. Some races have been contested, but none have matched the acrimony of the Hoyer-Murtha bout. The outcome likely to be the most symbolically and strategically significant will be the election of Rep. John Boehner as minority leader.
Boehner is about to find that it's a lot easier to be a young upstart in a longtime minority party than to be in charge of a minority party that only just fell out of favor. Many Republicans are still debating the reasons behind their losses. More than a few are still trying to adjust to the idea of being out of power. By our count, at least 127 members of the House GOP conference (depending on the outcome of some still-uncalled races) were elected in 1994 or later and therefore have never served in the minority before. When Boehner first got to Congress in 1990, House Republicans had served in the minority for over three decades.
Boehner got his start as a member of the Gang of Seven, a group of freshmen elected in 1990 who gained national attention by using the House Bank and Post Office scandals to agitate for congressional reform. Their efforts helped lay the groundwork for Minority Leader Newt Gingrich and his Republican Revolution of 1994. Since then, Boehner has worked his way up, down, and back up the leadership ladder. Earlier this year, his colleagues elected him majority leader over number-three Republican Roy Blunt, in part because Boehner was seen as the fresh face capable of helping the party right its ship before the midterms. That didn't turn out so well, but most in the conference see Boehner as having done a decent job under difficult circumstances.
Now that the party is back in the minority partly because voters saw them as arrogant and entrenched, it seems appropriate that Republican should choose him to help them climb out of the hole. Boehner is being challenged for the post by Rep. Mike Pence, a leading fiscal conservative who's advocating lower spending, but Pence is considered a longshot. He has the support of top conservative activists and pundits, but like all the other leadership contests we've seen this week, this one will be member-to-member, and outside endorsements probably won't mean that much with a secret ballot. It helps Boehner that one area of much called-for congressional reform on which he's always been pure is his opposition to earmarks.
Incidentally, Boehner is one of only two of the Gang of Seven left standing. Two are long gone, but three just lost their seats in this recent election -- Jim Nussle because he ran for governor and lost in a bad year for House Republicans to seek higher office, and Rick Santorum and Charles Taylor because voters declined to return them to Congress. John Doolittle, who seems to have strayed far from his reformer roots, was re-elected despite recent ethical issues.
Also today, House Republicans will decide between Reps. Roy Blunt and John Shadegg for minority whip. Blunt is the incumbent and Shadegg, like Pence, is campaigning on his fiscal-conservative credentials. Blunt is viewed as the frontrunner.
Vice President Cheney addresses the Federalist Society in his first public event since before the elections, as best we can tell. And Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates meets today with incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, outgoing Majority Leader Bill Frist, and incoming Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Gates will get his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, December 5.
First Read is taking a post-election breather. We'll see you back here on Monday, November 27, and we wish you all a terrific Thanksgiving holiday.