The Election After The Election

Capitol Hill correspondent Sharyl Attkisson was prowling the marble corridors of the Capitol today, while a political power struggle was underway. Was it arm-wrestling or arm-twisting? Read on. – Ed.
You have to wonder what was going on inside that room.

The House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, the ultimate politico, had rankled some fellow Democrats by doing what some saw as a politically incorrect thing: she endorsed somebody else for House Majority Leader, her "number two." When I say somebody else, I mean somebody other than the man in the normal line of succession for the job: Congressman Steny Hoyer. A longtime rival, Pelosi went out on a limb and publicly opposed Hoyer's candidacy, encouraging fellow Democrats to vote instead for her friend Congressman John Murtha. Today, Pelosi's fellow Democrats sawed off the limb.

In a vote that wasn't even close, 149 to 86, in secret ballot voting, behind closed doors, Pelosi's team elected Hoyer... not Murtha.

A hundred members of the media waited outside for the news. A Congressional staffer emerged and announced the vote. In just a moment, we thought, the newly-elected Hoyer will come before the cameras with Speaker-elect Pelosi to make their speeches.

But we waited. And waited.

You have to wonder what was going on inside that room.

With Hoyer winning, by such a large margin, Nancy Pelosi's first official endorsement as leader of her party in the House had been soundly rejected. Was she licking her wounds? Rewriting her speech? Was Hoyer applying makeup for the cameras? Was Pelosi touching up hers? Were she and Hoyer in a fistfight? More likely, we figured, they were deciding who-would-say-what-when in those awkward moments before the press. Pelosi will speak first, of course. Then she should introduce Hoyer. Should she say how sorry she was to endorse the wrong guy? Should she grab Hoyer's hand and raise it above their heads in a victory gesture (or would that seem disingenuous?). Surely something must be said about party unity. Maybe she should skip the whole uncomfortable Murtha thing altogether and not even mention it. Or him.

A full forty minutes later, Pelosi, Hoyer and-- surprisingly-- John Murtha came to the cameras together. Far from slinking down the back staircase, Murtha played a starring role among the victory speeches, standing up there right along with the winner. In fact, Pelosi spent more time extolling the virtues of Murtha, the loser, than those of the winner, Hoyer. She assured the world that their differences are behind them. She told everyone what a stand up guy Murtha is, and how he'll still play a key leadership role in the Democratic party. She said, in essence, she was "stunned" by Hoyer's victory and that she wasn't a bit sorry for endorsing Murtha.

Hoyer spoke after Pelosi. He, too, spoke of what a great guy Murtha is. (I guess this was part of what was worked out inside that room). And then, oddly enough, Murtha got a turn to speak. Among other things, he stated the obvious: that he lost because he didn't get enough votes.

Then Pelosi took Hoyer's hand and raised it above their heads, a bit stiffly and awkwardly, in a victory gesture.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.