By EMILY HAILE, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Two lawmakers with Maryland ties made history Thursday when they secured the top two positions in the U.S. House of Representatives and pledged to unite the Democratic Party in the coming session.
Baltimore native Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was unanimously nominated to become the nation's first female speaker in January.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, became the highest-ranking member of the Maryland congressional delegation in history when he won a contentious election for House Majority Leader by a landslide.
Hoyer had a chance to celebrate with staff back at his congressional office and called friends and family with news of the victory.
"I feel good but I also feel that I have a real a responsibility," he said. "This last election was about change. It was about moving the country in a new direction."
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Maryland delegation were pleased with Hoyer's newfound clout.
"We'll be the envy of the other 49 states because we have the majority leader," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick.
When it comes to working for Maryland, "we check our partisanship at the door," he said.
"Obviously having somebody at the highest levels of leadership in the House of Representatives means that our local issues will be a focus around the leadership table," said Hoyer.
Fellow Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, of Baltimore, nominated Hoyer to the post.
"During the 12 years that Steny Hoyer has worked so tirelessly to help us regain the majority, he has shown himself to be a true leader," Cummings said in his remarks to the caucus.
"Hoyer represents something very unique," said Zach P. Messitte, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
His support crosses party lines, which could be an important tool for Pelosi in terms of building consensus within the party, Messitte said.
This will be particularly important as Democrats try to mend fences after a difficult and hotly contested leadership race.
The election had been a nail biter in the past few days since Pelosi strongly endorsed Hoyer's opponent, John Murtha, D-Pa., for the post.
As recently as yesterday, there were frenzied efforts on both camps to lobby members for their votes.
"The calling is going on wholesale," said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, in the hours leading up to the race.
"In a competitive situation you can't take anything for granted."
Regardless of the outcome, there will be "bruised feelings without question," said Wynn.
After the Democratic caucus voted 149 to 86 in Hoyer's favor, the newly anointed leadership team addressed a crowd of more than 100 reporters, flanked by American flags.
All eyes were on Pelosi to see how she would react to the loss of her close ally even after she put her full political will behind Murtha's candidacy.
She and Hoyer have had a strained relationship since she beat him in an election for House Minority Whip in 2002.
"As they say in church, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us," Pelosi said, referring to the tension with Hoyer. "I extend great congratulations to him."
She also acknowledged the "magnificent contributions of Mr. Murtha," thanking him for his courage in speaking out against the Iraq war and helping to make the war a central issue in the midterm election.
Hoyer spoke of his three daughters, two granddaughters and recently-arrived great granddaughter.
"These young women are going to be extra proud of the fact that Nancy Pelosi has been elected to lead the House of Representatives," he said. "Nancy and I have been a good team."
The two shook hands and Hoyer drew her in for a hug as the camera flashes popped.
Later, in his office, Hoyer said again that he looks forward to a continued partnership with Pelosi.
"That doesn't mean we'll agree on every issue but it does mean we will be partners as we have been over the last four years.
"It was a hard fought contest," said Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville. "Now it's about reuniting the caucus and bring people together. Steny's committed to doing that."