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US Political Parties Begin Selecting Leaders for Newly Elected Congress


Democrats and Republicans continue the process of choosing their leaderships, as they look ahead to January when Congress comes under Democratic majority control. Democrats in the House of Representatives vow to maintain unity while taking a bipartisan approach with Republicans and President Bush on such issues as Iraq. However, there have been some internal tensions among Democrats ahead of a key leadership election.

Since the November 7 election that gave them the future majority in the House and Senate, Democrats have stressed unity, as well as readiness to work with Republicans on Iraq and domestic issues.

But that unity has been shaken a bit by the contest for the powerful position of Democratic majority leader.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, now certain to be elected Democratic House Speaker on Thursday, has thrown her support to Jack Murtha as Majority Leader.

Congressman Murtha, a Vietnam veteran known for his close attention to military issues, is widely known for his stand a year ago urging a strategic "redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Future Speaker Pelosi endorses this. But her support for Murtha, rather than Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer has caused a minor split among Democrats. Though Hoyer is still favored to become Majority Leader, some Democrats are throwing their support behind Murtha.

Tensions increased Tuesday when Murtha issued a statement accusing Hoyer of having favored the "stay-the-course" policy President Bush has advocated until recently on Iraq.

Hoyer told reporters (Tuesday) the charge is inaccurate. He downplayed reports of dissension within Democratic ranks, while asserting a majority of Democrats will support him for Democratic leader in an election Thursday.

Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, formalized their leadership team, headed by future Majority Leader Harry Reid, who held out another offer of bipartisanship to President Bush on Iraq. "This is an issue that is not going to go away, and we're not making any threats to the president. But we are reaching out to him [and] saying work with us to change course. The American people want it, and they demand it," he said.

The incoming Senate leadership will also include Illinois Senator Richard Durbin in the number two slot, North Dakota's Byron Dorgan to head the Policy Committee, and New York's Charles Schumer, who is credited with helping Democrats take the Senate back from Republican control, will continue as campaign committee chairman. Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan will hold other positions.

House Republicans also face crucial decisions as they approach a scheduled party election on Friday to determine who will lead them as the opposition.

The competition involves Ohio Congressman John Boehner, the current Majority Leader, and challenges by Indiana Republican Mike Pence and Joe Barton of Texas, conservatives who vow to lead Republicans back to power in 2008.

Barton echoes other Republicans who have asserted, since losses in the election, that a commitment to conservative values is the best chance of achieving that. "The Republican party is really not the problem, the Republican party is the answer," he said.

Senate Republicans choose their leaders on Wednesday, with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell unopposed to be Minority Leader.

As they consider their choices, Republicans have also faced calls from some conservative commentators urging them to delay leadership decisions, saying the party needs more time to consider how to mount, and who can most effectively lead, an effective challenge to Democrats over the next two years.

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