Monday, November 20, 2006

Who the Heck Is Steny Hoyer?

(Hint: He's not the one with the green head)

About a month ago one of my contacts who has the proverbial "Friends In High Places" in Washington DC told me that Steny Hoyer was going to be the next majority leader if Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. Despite all the fuss in the media and on the blogs about the race between Hoyer and John Murtha, the insiders knew all along what the outcome was going to be, and the results of the leadership election, 149-86 in Hoyer's favor, shows that it was never even a contest.

So who is Steny Hoyer?

He's a moderate on most issues, but hawkish on foreign policy. A nice guy, liked by most of his colleagues, but also a consummate political hack. A man who puts process and relationships ahead of values and ideology. A man of great ambition and questionable loyalty. As majority leader he could be a huge asset to speaker Pelosi, or he could sabotage her and undercut the Democratic agenda. Hard to say which way he'll go.

The best info I've seen on Hoyer is a Washington Monthly profile article that was published ... about a month ago:
If Hoyer, 67, appears to have an extra spring in his step lately, there’s a good reason. As the number-two Democrat in the House, he’ll likely become majority leader if Democrats win control this November.

Since entering Congress in 1981, Hoyer has forged an identity as a centrist, particularly on foreign-policy issues, that has helped make him the leadership’s unofficial liaison to the Blue Dog Democrats—a group of the caucus’s more conservative members—but has at times created tension with the more liberal Pelosi. On the day last December that she publicly backed a call from Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for withdrawal from Iraq, Hoyer released a statement declaring that such a policy “could lead to disaster.” And earlier that year, he angered the leader by supporting a bill being pushed by the credit-card industry designed to make it harder for people to declare bankruptcy.
Not so good. But here's where Hoyer could really help:
This conservatism has not won him friends among liberal bloggers—who argue that Democrats should have the courage of their convictions on basic issues of war and peace and economic fairness. But if Democrats do indeed retake power next year, keeping the party united will be crucial to many of the tasks that they’ll confront—from working to fix disastrous Republican legislation to conducting the vigorous oversight of the Bush administration that has been all but non-existent over the last six years. Because many of the House’s more conservative Democrats—not to mention its Republicans—simply trust Hoyer more than they do Pelosi, he stands to play a crucial role in holding the often fractious party together, and in working with the GOP, where possible, to pass legislation and hold the president accountable.
On the other hand...
It’s less Hoyer’s centrism that may cause problems for Democrats, and more what might be called his establishmentarianism. [...] In some ways, a leader with a healthy respect for Congress’s traditional procedures would be a breath of fresh air after the last decade, in which Reps Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Tom DeLay (R-Texas) rode roughshod over almost a century of established legislative norms. But the flip side of Hoyer’s obsession with process and old-fashioned relationship building is a reluctance to think strategically about changing the ways that Washington operates—even when doing so would benefit Democrats. Over the last year and a half, Hoyer—a protégé of Tony Coelho, the former California congressman who revolutionized Democratic fundraising in the 1980s—has led an aggressive effort to raise money from K Street lobbyists. Even more important, he has seemed unwilling to fundamentally rethink the unhealthy relationship between lobbyists and legislators that currently drives our political system. If Democrats are not only to regain power, but to maintain it and govern in a fairer and more responsive fashion, they’ll need to unite behind root-and-branch reform. But the evidence suggests that Hoyer lacks the political vision, and the will, to do so.


Anonymous said...

Yet again a nice post that shows personal effort and is not the usual rehash of the other rehashes out there. Which is not to imply that I found it terribly heartwarming. I think it's all in your last sentence -

If Democrats are not only to regain power, but to maintain it (what I fear is the only goal) and govern in a fairer and more responsive fashion, (what they're actually there for) they’ll need to unite behind root-and-branch reform. But the evidence suggests that Hoyer lacks the political vision, and the will, to do so.

And that's the part that scares me. As well as being most likely. I say that based not on having friends in high places (!) but based on years of hearing false promises and outright B.S. You get so you don't get your hopes up anymore, you get so you can smell another load comin' down the road. I think it follows that if the "insider Dems" could predict the outcome of the vote as well in advance as you described (and when are they ever wrong on those kinds of predictions?) then I think if follows logically that they earmarked someone who they were sure would NOT shake things up. Yup, I do.

Russell Wallace said...

Thanks for the compliments Jody. But I'm not quite a cynical about the majority leader thing as you are. Just because John Murtha never stood a chance doesn't mean there was some sort of insider plot. Hoyer was next in the line of succession, and didn't have quite as much ethical baggage as Murtha. While I greatly admire Murtha for taking a stand on the war, other than that his only real redeeming quality was that he was seen as loyal to Pelosi, and that didn't buy him many votes.

The press tends to play up battles because it's more interesting than just saying so and so is running but doesn't stand a snowballs chance in hell. Progressive blogs had their own ideological reasons for jumping on this race. The really interesting question, and one that I haven't really seen addressed yet, is why Pelosi started this fight in the first place when she almost certainly knew she wasn't going to win. There probably was more going on here than meets the eye.

proletariat said...


Its the war stupid. I know the Neo Democrats tried to spin the Murtha backing as a personality conflict, but Pelosi was very clear of why she backed Murtha. The war, the war, and the war.

I put Hoyer in the same category as Lieberman. When Pelosi stood up for Murtha when he came out against the war, Hoyer came out and more or less called him a traitor. When Colbert did his liitle skit, he said he went overboard and now is the time to back the President.

You are right, you take the war question out and so goes Murtha's redeeming qualities. Pelosi knew that win or lose she had to do something to stop the escalation of the war. She also knew that a Hoyer win meant the war was back on. There's even talk of a draft now.

Isn't it funny how it took a women speaker of the house to show some balls. There was no I was for it before I was against it, but simply the people have spoken against this, I have to do everything in my power to make sure their vote was not in vain.

Russell Wallace said...

Hi Proletariat, it's the war, but not in the sense that you think. Bush has made it clear that he's going to do what he wants regardless of who controls the House and Senate. The only real power the Democrats have is the ability to cut off funding for the war, and they won't do that because it would be political suicide (gotta show support for the troops, you know).

But what Democrats will do is use their investigative power to turn the public even further against the war (and the Republicans). The war will only end when Republicans decide the political cost of continuing it is too high. So despite the hopes of the antiwar left for a quick fix, it ain't gonna happen. And in that regard it doesn't really matter if the majority leader is Murtha or Hoyer.

Politics is like chess, and you have to look at the advantages and disadvantages of every move to understand what's going on. Sure, Pelosi would have liked to have someone as loyal and strongly antiwar as Murtha as her second in command, but she almost certainly knew that he was going to lose. So why would she push his candidacy?

Well, win or lose, supporting Murtha certainly earned her a lot of brownie points with the antiwar left, which is her natural base of support. It greatly strengthens her leadership to have a significant and growing national movement behind her. She went to bat for us, and we'll go to bat for her.

But from Pelosi's standpoint there are also a couple of real advantages to losing. Hoyer's big strength is supposedly his relationship with the blue dogs, and if they don't behave themselves, which they probably won't, Pelosi can blame him and say she didn't want him to be majority leader in the first place. So she's bought herself a significant degree of immunity from the actions of the right wing of the Democratic Party. Plus, the loss significantly reduces pressure on Pelosi for any sort of quick action on the war, and gives her breathing room to work on the more gradual approach I mentioned earlier.

A really good politician wins even when they lose.

proletariat said...

There is a level of irony about Murtha. The argument for him is the war,one I agree with, but with the ML vote it brings into question if he could rally the votes if neeeded.

I think we are pretty much on agreement on this one, I agree with most of what you said. What really got me frazzled was DLC types who tried to make this all a personality fight.

Let's be honest, it would have been very messy in the net roots if she didn't back Murtha. If she was neutral or backed Hoyer you would have had many angry people.