WASHINGTON -- Republicans returning to the House floor on Friday morning Aug. 3 after their walkout the night before were surprised to find as presiding officer the Democrat they call "King Corruption": Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, master of earmarks and backroom deals.
Rep. Ed Pastor, a 64-year-old eight-term Democrat from Phoenix, Ariz., who is affable and well-liked by Republicans, had been scheduled to preside. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fearing parliamentary tricks by Republicans, put her muscleman Murtha in the chair.
Murtha's performance as non-partisan presiding officer ran true to form. On a voice vote, Murtha ruled for Democrats when obviously more Republicans were on the House floor. He subsequently ordered a roll call vote, though members rising in support clearly fell short of the 44 required. After that ruling was challenged, Murtha declared: "The chair's decision is not subject to question."
Democratic insiders who are not neutral in the presidential race do not take seriously the USA Today/Gallup poll of Democratic voters showing Sen. Hillary Clinton 23 percentage points ahead of Sen. Barack Obama. They contend national surveys are meaningless because outcomes of the early state contests are still critical.
State polls show a virtual three-way tie among Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards in Iowa's early caucuses. Clinton has only a narrow lead over Obama in New Hampshire's opening primary. Obama has moved slightly ahead in the latest survey for South Carolina, the next primary state.
A footnote: Mitt Romney collects only 6 percent in the USA Today/Gallup national poll of Republicans but leads in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Senate Judiciary Committee unexpectedly sent to the Senate floor the judicial nomination of former Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Leslie Southwick, thanks to a defection by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that blindsided Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy.
The homosexual rights coalition has targeted for defeat President Bush's nomination of Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi). Leahy called for an immediate committee vote on Aug. 2, expecting that the nomination would be killed. According to Senate sources, Republican Whip Trent Lott appealed to Feinstein on grounds that the Republican-controlled Senate had confirmed President Bill Clinton's judicial nomination of California liberal Richard Paez. Feinstein's vote provided a 10 to 9 edge for Southwick.
A footnote: This dissent adds to liberal displeasure with Feinstein, who voted for extension of the Patriot Act and supported authority for federal eavesdropping of suspected terrorists without court warrants.
READING ABOUT RAHM
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, heading Republican efforts to take back the House in 2008, has advised his staffers at the National Republican Congressional Committee to read an account of how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, won the 2006 elections.
The book recommended by Cole is "The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution" by Naftali Bendavid.
Cole told me he believes Republican operatives should read Bendavid's book because it "shows the Democrats were lucky to win" despite their mistakes. At a point of low Republican morale, Cole thinks the book demonstrates Democrats are not 10-feet tall.
YOUTH FROM PEORIA
Aaron Schock, a conservative 26-year-old Illinois state legislator, is privately boosted by national Republican operatives as their choice in a contested GOP primary next year to replace retiring seven-term Rep. Ray LaHood from the Peoria, Ill., district.
Schock would represent a rightward shift in the centrist representation of the solidly Republican district by LaHood for 14 years and by his old boss, former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, for the preceding 38 years.
Michel spent 20 years in the House Republican leadership, but LaHood's ambitions to become a leader were frustrated by the post-Michel Republican caucus. LaHood considered but abandoned a run for governor of Illinois in 2006.