Pelosi Backs Murtha For Majority Leader

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., speaks at his campaign headquarters in Johnstown, Pa., Nov. 8. 2006. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, became a leading opponent of the war in Iraq.
Rep. Jack Murtha, the 74-year-old Vietnam War veteran who stepped into the spotlight last year with his criticism of the war in Iraq, has picked up a major endorsement in his quest for a powerful leadership position on Capitol Hill.

In a letter made public late Sunday, soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi backed Murtha – a longtime ally – for House Majority Leader, a post also sought by Rep. Steny Hoyer, who has been a rival of Pelosi's.

"Your presence in the leadership of our party would add a knowledgeable and respected voice to our Democratic team," Pelosi wrote Murtha, who has been viewed as an underdog in the contest against Hoyer. "Your strong voice for national security, the war on terror and Iraq provides genuine leadership for our Party, and I count on you to continue to lead on these vital issues."

The Democrats are expected to make their choice on Thursday.

"I am deeply gratified to receive the support of Speaker Pelosi, a tireless advocate for change and a true leader for our party and our country," said Murtha, commenting on the endorsement. "Last Tuesday, the American people spoke and the message could not be clearer: we need a new direction."

"It's time for Democrats to deliver and that's what I hope to do working side by side with Speaker Pelosi," Murtha continued. "If elected Majority Leader, we will implement the Democrats 6 for '06 agenda and execute our Party's 100 Hour Plan to bring about the change our country needs."

The Democrat's 100 Hour Plan includes a crackdown on lobbyists, an increase in the minimum wage, reducing interest rates on student loans, government negotiations with drug companies to reduce prices for Medicare patients, an expansion of stem cell research, and enactment of all the recommendations made by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Hoyer has been number two in the Democratic leadership behind Pelosi for the past four years. He says he's still confident he will win the race.

"Nancy told me some time ago that she would personally support Jack," says Hoyer, in a statement released by his office on Sunday. "I respect her decision as the two are very close."

Murtha, a retired Marine who easily won re-election last week, made headlines last year when he said U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq.

That statement led some critics to call him unpatriotic, while others praised him for his courage.

Murtha says he's still pushing for most U.S. troops to be brought home from Iraq as soon as possible. He also supports leaving some troops on the periphery of Iraq to go in as needed.

"The first thing we have to do is establish some truth about this whole thing. Second, we have to hold people accountable," Murtha said. "It's not a disaster for us to leave Iraq, it's a disaster for us to not have a policy."