Washington (CBS/AP) - Nancy Pelosi was unanimously chosen by Democrats Thursday to be speaker of the House, the first woman ensured the job that constitutionally is second in line of succession to the presidency.
Even as Pelosi was enjoying her finest hour politically, her fellow Democrats remained divided by a family feud over whom to select as her top lieutenant.
CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss points out that Pelosi – who will succeed Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert – has to be elected by the full House when the new Congress convenes in January. She was selected as the Democratic candidate for that job on Thursday.
In the contentious battle for the no. 2 leadership post, Pelosi passed over Steny Hoyer of Maryland, now the assistant minority leader, and endorsed longtime ally John Murtha of Pennsylvania to become majority leader.
Critics accused Pelosi of backpedaling on a pledge to scrub the House of corruption.
The Democrats, after all, ran against what they called Republicans' "culture of corruption" this election cycle, CBS News' Capitol Hill reporter Evelyn Thomas observes.
Democrats also said they wanted to stop the avalanche of earmarks, which are inserted into bills just before they are voted on and which members often don't know about. Murtha is a very big believer in earmarks for his district and brings home lots of pork, Thomas says.
Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran who favors an immediate drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, has also fought charges for years of using his senior status on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee to award favors to campaign contributors. He voted against a Democratic package of ethics reforms earlier this year and was touched by — but never charged in — the Abscam bribery scandal a quarter-century ago.
CBS News Capitol Hill reporter Allison Davis explains that the Ethics Committee cannot investigate an allegation of anything that occurred more than three Congresses ago. Since Murtha's supposed involvement in the Abscam sting doesn't fall within those time limits, it might not be as much of a sticking point in his candidacy as one might think.
Hoyer, a Pelosi rival, was battling to hold onto the lead in the race with Murtha. A closed-door caucus was to convene Thursday morning, and both candidates were predicting victory via a secret ballot, which allows lawmakers to be evasive when asked of their intentions.
The Hoyer-Murtha battle is a no-win situation for Pelosi, who had hoped to avoid the fight. She is expected to be elected speaker of the House, a Constitutional office that is third in line for the presidency, when the new Congress convenes in January with a Democratic majority.
Pelosi allies, including confidant George Miller of California, were aggressively courting votes for Murtha.
A Murtha victory could create hard feelings among Hoyer allies, especially moderate Democrats. On the other hand, a Hoyer victory could be seen as a defeat for Pelosi in her first major move since Election Day.
Either way, the race has roiled a Democratic caucus that will need maximum unity in order to effectively rule the fractious House come January.
Meanwhile, House Republicans, soon to be in the minority for the first time since 1994, were to meet in private Thursday to hear presentations from candidates for their leadership posts. Their election was scheduled for Friday.
Finding a replacement for Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois turned into a two-man race between Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and conservative challenger Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana after Rep. Joe Barton of Texas dropped out and endorsed Boehner.
Hoyer entered the Democratic leadership race with a substantial lead by most counts, but he has been scrambling to hold onto supporters since Pelosi's surprise intervention on Sunday. He appeared to carry a lead into Thursday's secret ballot despite Pelosi's opposition.
"I think we're in very good shape. I expect to win," Hoyer said Wednesday. "I expect that we will bring the party together and become unified and move on from this."
With characteristic gruffness, Murtha said the opposite was true. "We're going to win. We got the votes," he said on MSNBC.
Allies such as Miller have been working this week to peel away votes from Hoyer. Pelosi also has intervened more directly, making the case for Murtha in one-on-one meetings with Democratic freshmen, sessions in which the incoming lawmakers ask for all-important committee assignments.
Murtha, a former Marine who generally has supported U.S. military efforts, has gained considerable attention for his criticism of the administration's Iraq war policies. He steered Pelosi's winning campaign in 2001 against Hoyer for the No. 2 Democratic leadership post, and his supporters say Pelosi deserves a more loyal wingman.
Murtha has a record of not always being a leadership loyalist, frequently supplying votes to GOP leaders who were struggling to pass bills. The none-too-subtle trade-off: Murtha and his allies would do better when home-state projects were doled out by the Republicans.
Hoyer claims considerable support from some liberals made uncomfortable by Murtha's opposition to abortion, gun control and changes to House ethics rules. He also is a leadership contact for many moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats.
Hoyer's backers say he has been an able lieutenant to Pelosi and has done nothing to disqualify himself from holding the same position in the majority.
He has been aggressive in lining up supporters, most of whom are sticking with him.
"One of the first things I learned around here is that when you give your commitment you honor it," said Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia, a Hoyer supporter.
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