Murtha to Run for Majority Leader in New Congress

Democratic Rep. John Murtha's opposition to the war in Iraq helped frame this election. Now Murtha tells Steve Inskeep that he will run for the position of majority leader in the new Congress.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, the Democratic win in the House of Representatives likely means a bigger role for the man we're going to meet next. Congressman John Murtha's very public opposition to the war in Iraq helped to frame this election, and now he may be in a position to steer Democratic policy.

Congressman, good morning.

Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Good morning.

INSKEEP: Democrats have promised voters a new direction on this war. Speaking briefly now, what is the Democratic plan for Iraq?

Rep. MURTHA: Well, I think it's truth, accountability and direction. First of all, accountability. We're going to say, okay, here's what needs to be done. Quit telling us how well it's going; show us exactly the progress it has made.

Then second, we're going to say here's a plan that we have, and Speaker Pelosi has signed on to the plan I have. Stability in the Middle East, stability in Iraq comes from redeployment of our troops, and that's going to be what we'll work for.

Now how do we do that? We'll deal from a base of power because before we were the minority. He didn't have to pay any attention to us. The Congress - the Republican Congress rubberstamped everything that happened.

INSKEEP: Congressman, are you willing to, for example, cut off funding for the war if you do not hear what you want to hear from the White House?

Rep. MURTHA: Well, obviously we're not going to do that. That would be - even in the Vietnam War, we didn't do that while our troops were in the field. We have to protect the troops in the field, but they have cut off funding. They're trying to blame the military today. The Republican majority said the other day that the military made all kinds of mistakes. So they're trying to shift the blame to the military.

This is a policy difference between me and the White House, it's a policy difference between the Democrats or Republicans, and we have to change direction.

They're caught in a civil war. That's the problem that we've had and that things have gotten worse. When I spoke out a year ago, we had 400 attacks a week. Now we have 800 attacks a week, and that's with 130,000 troops on the ground. And the other thing people are concerned about - none of these other problems can be solved, whether it's Medicare or educational payments or better medicine, none of those can be solved until stop spending $8 billion a month or $11 million an hour.

INSKEEP: Congressman, if I may, you said that this is a policy difference, quote, "between me and the White House" and I want to ask about that. Are you sure that your position on Iraq is the same as other Democrats and that you all can speak with one voice?

Rep. MURTHA: Let me tell you something. They - all the Democrats agree we have to change direction. Over a hundred have signed on to my plan. And so my plan is very simple. It's redeploy as soon as practicable and start an intensive diplomatic effort with all the countries in the surrounding area to solve this problem. It has to be done bipartisan, it has to be done with the president, and we're going to do everything we can.

Listen, this is not a dictatorship. The president can say all he wants to. The president has no power. The president is a perception of power, and he has lost that power in this election. In a sense, this was about Bush and his Iraq policy. And when he lost the majority in the House by a resounding loss, he has to listen to the people.

INSKEEP: Although you point out it's not a dictatorship, but there's a flipside there, too. Can you fight the war by committee, by overruling the commander in chief?

Rep. MURTHA: Well, it's not a matter of overruling. As I say over and over again, you're looking for a confrontation. We're trying to figure out - what did they do when I spoke up? They tried to demonize me. They tried to demonize anybody that had a policy difference with the White House. That's not the way to solve problems. You listen to the other side. If he listened to his dad in the first place, Bush I, we wouldn't have had this problem.

INSKEEP: We're talking with John Murtha. He's a senior Democrat in the House of Representatives. And, congressman, you've expressed interest, as many people know, in being your party's majority leader, running for that position. And it would be a contested fight, are you going to go ahead with that?

Rep. MURTHA: I am. I'm working and I've been working for the last few days. I didn't want to be divisive during the elections. So I now - so that hold people in place. And I'm working diligently now, trying to convince people that I'd make a good balance.

INSKEEP: Any risk that you might be divisive for Democrats now?

Rep. MURTHA: Well, let me tell you something. We have a lot of - a big tent and a big window, and we'll work this thing out.

INSKEEP: All right. Congressman John Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania. Been a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks very much.

Rep. MURTHA: Thanks very much, Steve.

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