If there was any doubt about how much the political landscape has changed after Tuesday, it was clear to see earlier this morning in the Capitol. Holding his first “pen and pad” press briefing since the Democrats’ victory, Minority Leader Steny Hoyer was met by some 40 reporters in a room meant to hold about a dozen. When they were in the minority, such weekly chats would draw just a handful of regular Hill reporters. Today’s get-together brought out producers from many of the networks, cable news correspondents and reporters from some of the weekly news mags.
Joking about the all the new attention, Hoyer noted that he “must have the votes [for Minority Leader]” in hand to draw such a crowd. He focused most of his remarks on business before the lame-duck session and his party’s initial agenda for the new Congress (9/11 Commission implementation, min. wage, negotiating drug prices and higher education affordability).
Hoyer almost had to be prodded into discussing the elephant (er, donkey) in the room – his leadership contest with Penn. Rep. John Murtha, and incoming-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of Murtha. Hoyer said Pelosi’s support for her friend and former leadership campaign manager from 2001 was just a reflection of her being “a loyal person,” adding that those persistent “reports of dissension” between he and his rival from that ’01 race are “much greater than the reality.” Hoyer also said he was not surprised when the news went public and that Pelosi had alerted him of her move before it leaked.
As for those concerns about Murtha’s ethics, Hoyer wouldn’t take the bait. He told the same reporter twice that he was “not looking back,” but “looking forward.” He even said Murtha would “play a very important role in the future;” on the Appropriations Committee, that is.
And on Murtha’s latest salvo that Hoyer shares the same “stay the course” position as the administration, Hoyer was tight-lipped, saying only “that’s not accurate.”
As Hoyer wrapped up, one reporter shouted, “You still gonna have pen and pads [as Majority Leader]?” Hoyer responded, “You bet,” to which another sweaty scribe muttered, “hopefully in a bigger room,” before squeezing out of a stuffy Minority Leader’s suite that will soon have new ownership.