The Democrats Now Have Their Chance
This was the election Democrats called for a "new direction." This was the year they assailed Republicans for staying the course. This was supposed to be the election of change.
Well, they've got their chance. Democratic leaders waited all year make that 12 years to introduce a Democratic speaker of the House. They did that last night to the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" in a packed ballroom just steps from Capitol Hill with the Democratic faithful chanting "Nancy, Nancy" and "Speaker, Speaker."
House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi of California said: "Today the American people voted for change and they voted for Democrats to take our country in a new direction, and that is exactly what we intend to do. The American people voted for a new direction to restore civility and bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., and Democrats promise to work together in a bipartisan way for all Americans."
Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the two heads of the Democrats' election strategy, stood with Sen. Harry Reid and Pelosi, calling themselves a united party. They all spoke of the cornerstones of their Six for '06 plan: raising the minimum wage, rewriting the country's energy policy, making college tuition affordable, lowering the price of prescription drugs, and calling for a change of course in Iraq. Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman, said last week that "we'll be prepared to move quickly" and that the minimum wage bill, a Democratic mainstay for years, could be among the very first pieces of legislation the party pushes.
"The only way we can get anything done is for the president to throw away his tough talk," said Manley. "He is a lame duck and that is a fact."
With the latest results showing at least a 27-seat pickup for the Democrats, what was once a nail-biter to gain the 15 seats necessary to retake the House has become a much broader mandate. Control of the Senate still hangs in the balance, and if Democrats prevail in Montana and Virginia, the mandate could be much larger and the president's ability to pass his agenda further curtailed.
But a party known for intraparty melees isn't going to be all smiles for all that long. Many of the Democrats elected last night are moderate or conservative and could be expected to cross the aisle at times and vote with Republicans. Already brewing on election night was a fierce duel within the Democratic Party. Unless Pelosi can reach a last-minute compromise or quell the fighting, Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania will be competing for the No. 2 job in the House. Just before 1 a.m., Hoyer's office sent the first E-mail, titled "Hoyer Running for House Majority Leader." An hour later, on MSNBC, Murtha told Chris Matthews that he "absolutely" wants to be leader and that he is close to having the votes.
With Hoyer representing moderate Democrats and Murtha who has called for withdrawing from Iraq representing the more liberal wing of the party, the fight over the speakership could turn into "a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party," says John Fortier, resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.