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US House Democrats Choose Leadership, Stress Unity

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have completed the process of choosing leaders to guide them when they return as the majority in the new congress in January. A senior Democrat who emerged over the last year as a key critic of President Bush on Iraq, was unsuccessful in his bid to become Democratic Majority Leader, under future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

John Murtha, the 74-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania and proponent of an early U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, had challenged Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer for the post of Majority Leader.

Congresswoman Pelosi, who had worked well with Hoyer but also at times had her differences with him, supported Murtha.

Hoyer prevailed, by nearly a 2-1 margin in the Democratic caucus vote and told reporters he and Pelosi will work together based on common values:

"We may have, as everybody standing here may have, differences from time to time, but the Republicans need to know, the president needs to know, and the country needs to know, our caucus is unified today," he said.

Congresswoman Pelosi, elected unanimously as the future first woman House Speaker, said she supported Murtha because she thought it was the best way to bring an end to the war in Iraq.

Calling the conflict there an ethical issue facing Congress and the American people, she signaled Democrat's determination to work to end the war and bring U.S. troops home.

"I am a person who is committed to ending this war," she said. "It is a grotesque mistake, it is costing lives, limbs, [nearly] a trillion dollars, costing dollars, reputation in the world, cost to our military, and I promised that I would do everything possible to end it."

In expressing gratitude in his victory for the number two Democratic spot, Hoyer referred to Murtha's call just over a year ago for a phased strategic redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq.

"We said to the president of the United States, your policy is not working Mr. President, stay the course is not an option, we need to transition, we need to strategically and quickly redeploy, we need to get the Iraqis to do many things to bring resolve to the conflict, but if you can't do that staying the course is not an answer. Yes, we agree on that," he said.

Among others elected to top positions, was Rahm Emmanuel to head the Democratic caucus, the number four position in the hierarchy. He is the Illinois Democrat who managed his party's House election campaign strategy that will have Democrats return in January, likely with at least a 30-seat majority.

Jim Clyburn, an African-American lawmaker from South Carolina, will be Democratic whip, the number three position. He also stressed unity in his remarks to reporters.

"[In the] elections, a lot of stones were thrown," he said. "But that is behind us. Today, it is time to gather stones and together we are going to make this country a better place for all who are destined to come after us."

In her remarks, Congresswoman Pelosi reiterates what Democrats call their 100-hour pledge.

Among other things, that involves an effort to push through congressional ethics reforms, implement all recommendations of the September 11 Commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks, and repeal what they call unfair tax breaks approved by Republicans for oil companies.

Pelosi says she will seek bipartisan cooperation with Republicans, and with President Bush, on Iraq and domestic issues.

Senate Democrats formalized theirs earlier this week - Republicans in the House will hold their own election on Friday.

That has current Majority Leader John Boehner facing fellow Republican, Mike Pence, an Indiana conservative who has spoken out strongly against what he calls unwise over-spending by his party since they have been in power.