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Ready, set, stumble.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Speaker of the House-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., should stencil this colloquial expression on her office door: "When you are up to your eyeballs in alligators, it is difficult to remind yourself that your initial objective was to drain the swamp."

Pelosi promised that if Democrats regained control of the House in the midterm elections, they would "drain the swamp" of corruption and unethical shenanigans that tarnished the Republican-controlled Congress and angered many voters. But in her first opportunity to make good on her pledge, she sided with the alligators.

Exhibiting an alarmingly short memory for her own sound bites, Pelosi threw her wholehearted support behind Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., for the No. 2 leadership position in the House. Yes, Murtha deserves enormous credit for changing the direction of the congressional debate on the Iraq war. And it's appropriate for Pelosi to demonstrate loyalty to a colleague who championed her successful election as House minority leader.

But Murtha's assets on the Iraq war are arguably offset by his liabilities on the ethical side of the ledger and his reputation as a passionate pursuer of pork. Murtha's most famous appearance in front of cameras prior to his recent notoriety as an advocate for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq was on an FBI surveillance tape during the 1980 Abscam investigation. The Abscam sting involved undercover agents posing as go-betweens for an Arab sheik looking to bribe congressmen for favors.

Murtha responded to an offer of $50,000 by saying, "I'm not interested - at this point." He wound up being classified by the FBI as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the case.

As if to underscore what an absurd choice he would have been for the leadership of a party pledging to run "the cleanest Congress in history," Murtha made Pelosi look clueless on Thursday when he called House ethics reforms "total crap." Shortly after Murtha's elegant remarks, House Democrats voted overwhelmingly to name Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer as majority leader.

The conflict-obsessed news media may have blown Pelosi's initial misstep with Murtha out of proportion. She is right to signal both to her party and to the voters that the Iraq war will be the centerpiece of the Democrats' policy agenda. But the message the American people sent on Election Day also contained deep anger with the culture of corruption in Congress. That made the Murtha choice a tone-deaf flub.

Now it's time to see if Pelosi is smart enough to learn from her mistakes. She is rumored to be unhappy with fellow California Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Although Harman, an expert on intelligence matters who has bipartisan respect, fully deserves to chair the committee, Pelosi is said to favor Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

Hastings was impeached as a federal judge by the House and convicted by the Senate for conspiring to extort a $150,000 bribe in a case before him. He was removed from office in the late 1980s, although he was acquitted of bribery in a criminal trial in 1983.

Promoting Hastings over Harman would be a disastrous mistake that would raise legitimate questions about Pelosi's commitment to ethics reform.

Pelosi knows better than anyone that Congress faces extraordinary challenges in restoring its constitutional oversight role in the final two years of Bush's presidency. She can't afford any more debilitating distractions before her team even takes the field.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Pelosi misses the mark with Murtha endorsement
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 18, 2006
Words:569
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