WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 House Democrats chose Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland as their new majority leader on Thursday, rejecting the choice of the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and straining the unity of the new majority party.
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland at a Democratic caucus. Thursday Democrats chose him to be the majority leader by a vote of 149 to 86 over Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania.
In an indication that rank-and-file members would be willing to break from Ms. Pelosi, Democrats chose Mr. Hoyer over Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania by a decisive vote of 149 to 86. Mr. Hoyer overcame a concerted push by Ms. Pelosi on behalf of Mr. Murtha, a combat veteran who became an influential spokesman against the Iraq war.
Despite the internal acrimony that has clouded the Democratic victory celebration of last week, the leadership team that will take control of the House in January left their closed meeting in the Cannon House Office Building, joined hands and pledged to work together in the months ahead.
Let the healing begin, said Ms. Pelosi, whom Democrats chose unanimously to be their candidate for speaker and who would be the first woman to hold that office. The speaker is elected by the full House.
Crediting Mr. Murtha with changing the political dynamic on the war, Ms. Pelosi sought to oust Mr. Hoyer from his position as the No. 2 Democrat. Mr. Hoyer lost a 2001 leadership battle to Ms. Pelosi. Mr. Murtha managed that 2001 fight on Ms. Pelosis behalf, and in backing him for majority leader, Ms. Pelosi signaled that she put a premium on loyalty.
But Democrat after Democrat said the outcome of the leadership fight was a reflection that a clear majority of the party believed that Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer had been a winning combination, despite the strains between them, and that there was no reason to make an abrupt change. In the view of many Democrats, Ms. Pelosis liberal reputation is offset by Mr. Hoyers moderate image, and she is freed to concentrate on the partys broader message because of his floor management and vote-counting abilities, which were sharply illustrated by his victory on Thursday.
It is a great leadership team, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California said in nominating Mr. Hoyer, according to notes taken by aides. Lets keep it in place.
Ms. Pelosis push on behalf of Mr. Murtha was cheered by some liberal Democratic activists who saw it is a recognition of the wars importance in the past election. In that sense, her support of him, even if unsuccessful, could be seen as an effort on Ms. Pelosis part to acknowledge the political clout of her partys antiwar wing.
Other Democrats portrayed her decision to inject herself into the race as a miscalculation that elevated the battle into an unnecessary early test of her power and ended up giving more influence to Mr. Hoyer. But they said they did not expect hard feelings to linger.
She is a very smart woman who made a mistake in judgment, said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and the likely chairman of the Financial Services Committee. I honestly dont believe you are going to see any problems.
Not everyone was willing to put aside the fight so quickly. Some supporters of Mr. Murtha, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee whose candidacy was dogged by questions about his ethics record, were disgruntled and said they were trying to identify lawmakers who had broken pledges to support him.
We wont trust them on issues like this the next time, said Representative James P. Moran, a Murtha ally from Virginia who said Mr. Murtha had been betrayed.
Mr. Hoyer, on the other hand, appeared to hold all the pledges he had from members, which is not always the case in volatile secret-ballot leadership elections, and he promised to work in concert with Ms. Pelosi.
In my opinion, it was not that somebody was rejected today, he said after the vote. It was that a team that had been successful was asked to continue to do that job on behalf of the American people.
The House majority leader typically sets the floor schedule and decides what legislation will be brought up for a vote while also overseeing the partys strategy in advancing its agenda. The speaker is the partys top figure in the House, but that position also carries a broader role as a constitutional officer charged with representing the interests of the full chamber.
Some Democrats said that the distracting turmoil and an uneven performance by Mr. Murtha in recent days had cemented support for Mr. Hoyer. They said many lawmakers had concluded that the best chance of limiting any bitterness was to install Mr. Hoyer and, in effect, save Ms. Pelosi from what they characterized as a flawed decision.