House Democrats elect leaders
Compiled from Times wires
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from California, broke the glass ceiling on Capitol Hill Thursday, becoming the first woman to head a political party's caucus in Congress.
The election of Pelosi by House Democrats to succeed Rep. Dick Gephardt as the party's leader reflected the eagerness of the party to recover from the stunning election setbacks at the hands of President Bush and Republicans this fall.
"I am confident that with her leadership, we're going to win back the House in 2004," said Gephardt, who bowed out of the leadership post after the GOP cemented its hold on the House in last week's election.
But Republicans were gleeful that a Democrat with the liberal credentials of Pelosi will lead her party into the next election, one in which not only all 435 House seats will be up for re-election but also the White House.
"Nancy's an honest liberal -- she never pretends to be anything else," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who will retire at the end of the current session of Congress. "You always know where Nancy is."
Pelosi, 62, has represented a strongly liberal congressional district in San Francisco for 15 years. She has clashed with the Bush administration on a number of key issues, including the Iraq war powers resolution and the structure of the new Department of Homeland Security.
She has used her seat on the Appropriations Committee to seek funds for AIDS research and treatment. She favored restoring welfare for legal immigrants and more federal spending on schools, environmental protection and family planning.
"She has the courage to stand up to the Bush administration's antichoice agenda," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
But in her campaign to succeed Gephardt, she promised to reach out to more moderate and conservative members of her party, who fear a hasty return to liberal politics could doom the party in future elections. And immediately after her election, she named Rep. John Spratt, a moderate from South Carolina, to a newly created post of assistant minority leader.
At a news conference after her election, Pelosi, who is known as a shrewd political tactician and effective fundraiser, adopted a conciliatory tone toward President Bush and the House Republican majority. She said that since the terrorist attacks last year, Democrats "stand shoulder to shoulder with the president in support of our young men and women in uniform, and in the fight against terrorism."
Pelosi won the job of House Democratic leader on a 177-29 vote against Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, a young moderate who was the first to call for Gephardt to step aside after the midterm election. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who entered the race this week, withdrew just before the vote Thursday.
Pelosi and other newly elected Democratic leaders emerged from the party caucus to appear before TV news cameras with blue and white buttons reading "Team Pelosi."
They promised cooperation with the White House and GOP congressional leaders when possible.
"Where we can find common ground on economic and other domestic issues, we will seek it," she said. "Where we cannot find that common ground, we must stand our ground."
"I also hope that we can raise the level of civility in the political debate in Congress," Pelosi said.
By becoming leader of the House Democrats, Pelosi put herself in position to become the first female House speaker if her party regains the majority.
When a reporter tried to interrupt her with a question, Pelosi acknowledged the historic significance of her election. "I'm not finished yet -- I've been waiting over 200 years for this," she said.
"I didn't run as a woman," she said. "I ran as a seasoned politician and an experienced legislator. It just so happens that I am a woman and we have been waiting a long time for this moment."
The House Democrats chose Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, another veteran Democratic legislator, to succeed Pelosi as whip, the party's second-highest rank, one that largely involves lining up party votes.
"Today's leadership election was not about Democrats moving from one place on the political spectrum to another," Hoyer said. "It was about the Democratic caucus coming together." Hoyer, who has served 21 years in the House, said his whip operation will ensure that Democrats speak "with a unified, powerful voice."
Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, 48, a leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was tapped for the party's No. 3 position in the House leadership, that of caucus chairman. He will preside over closed door sessions of the caucus to discuss strategy, build consensus and air differences.
Menendez will replace Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, who served two terms as caucus chairman and was prevented by party rules from seeking a third term. Concerned about Pelosi's liberalism, the moderate Frost briefly ran against the Californian but withdrew when it became clear that Pelosi had locked up the votes needed to win.
The House Democrats chose their leaders one day after the Republicans assembled their team, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois; Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, who will move up from GOP whip to majority leader, succeeding Armey; Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a DeLay protege, as whip; and Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio to lead the GOP conference.
-- Information from Cox News Service, the Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.
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From the Times wire desk
From the AP