CORRECTED - Democrats defy Pelosi, elect Hoyer House leader
(Corrects first paragraph to make clear Murtha is an Iraq war foe, not an opponent of Pelosi)
By Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nancy Pelosi, soon to become the first woman to head the U.S. House of Representatives, failed on Thursday to convince fellow Democrats to approve a vocal Iraq war foe as her top lieutenant.
Steny Hoyer, a moderate Maryland Democrat, easily defeated Pennsylvania's John Murtha, a leading proponent of a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, to become the next House majority leader.
A week after jubilant Democrats won control of Congress from President George W. Bush's Republicans, with the war a key issue, the Democratic leadership election handed Pelosi an embarrassing first defeat.
Emerging from closed-door balloting that capped a bruising intraparty fight, Pelosi, a veteran lawmaker and California liberal, tried to put the matter behind her.
"We've had our differences in our party. We have come together," Pelosi said. "And now that's over."
Hoyer, who has been the No. 2 House Democrat behind Pelosi the past three years, defeated Murtha by a vote of 149-86.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, Pelosi, Hoyer and Murtha vowed to work together to advance their party's agenda. At the top of the list is pushing for a phased withdrawal beginning within months of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"Mr. President, we need to make a transition in Iraq; it is not working; we need to change the policy, not stay the course," Hoyer said.
Said Murtha: "The military leaders know there's a limitation to military power. They know that it's time for us to redeploy."
And Pelosi hailed Murtha "for his courage in stepping forward one year ago to speak truth to power. He changed the debate in this country in a way that I think gave us this majority in this November."
As expected, Pelosi was unanimously nominated by Democrats to become House speaker, which would put her second in the line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president.
A vote on the speakership by the full House will be held when the 110th Congress convenes in January. She is certain to win.
NO FALLOUT SEEN
Hoyer has had a somewhat strained relationship with Pelosi the past three years, while she served as House minority leader and he was her deputy.
Pelosi endorsed Murtha on Sunday, ending her neutrality in the contest. In 2001 Murtha managed Pelosi's successful leadership battle with Hoyer.
While Democrats have appreciated Murtha's anti-war efforts, there have been complaints he has opposed efforts to toughen the ethical rules in Congress and used his position to help clients of his lobbyist brother.
Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, predicted there would be no lasting fallout from the leadership battle.
"A lot of people wished this hadn't happened," Frank said. "There's a sense that we had a little stumble ... (but) I think it will disappear."
Rep. Albert Wynn, a Maryland Democrat, said the battle will fade away and "people will focus" on the party's agenda, which, includes raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, expanding health care and upgrading education.