Not a lot of lawmakers were in Washington on Monday due to the massive snowstorm that buried the region over the weekend. But that didn’t stop them from eulogizing the late-Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) in heartfelt statements and emails.
Murtha had perhaps no greater ally than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). In fact, Pelosi endorsed Murtha over current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in a leadership contest to be her deputy when Democrats won control of Congress in 2006. But Hoyer defeated Murtha handily.
“I was privileged to call him friend,” said Pelosi in a statement.
Pelosi applauded Murtha for his stance against the war in Iraq.
“The nation saw his courage writ large when he spoke out against the military engagement in Iraq,” said Pelosi. But she also noted that even though Murtha grew disillusioned with the war, he remained an ardent defender of U.S. troops.
“As a proud Marine, he was always Semper Fi,” the speaker said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said those in Congress “will miss the tenacity and passion that he brought to his job every day.”
In a statement, President Obama saluted Murtha’s “tough-as-nails reputation” and said the Pennsylvania Democrat “became a respected voice on issues of national security.”
“I am deeply saddened to lose my dear friend,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). “He was a public servant in every sense of the word and his passing is a great loss to all of Pennsylvania.”
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) mourned his Keystone State colleague and noted that Murtha “learned the lessons of service to country first as an Eagle Scout.”
Over the years, Murtha certainly garnered his share of critics. He was named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the FBI’s ABSCAM sting nearly 30 years ago. Alleged ethics breaches dogged Murtha about his earmarking practices and associations with a shady lobbying firm now facing federal scrutiny. Others argued he was wrong to criticize the Iraq war effort with troops on the battlefield.
But some lawmakers used their statements as an opportunity to quash Murtha’s critics.
“I hope I have the courage that Jack showed when he realized how wrong the Iraq war was and stood up to those in the Bush Administration and in the media who did everything they could to detract from his credibility,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). “History will show how unsuccessful and misguided his detractors were.”
Murtha was a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, the panel that determines how the government spends its money.
“Words cannot describe the loss my wife Arlen and I feel for my dear friend,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the leading Republican appropriator. “I have never seen a more valiant defender of the men and women of our armed forces, nor a more steadfast advocate for our country’s unequaled national defense.”
Lewis added that “Congress will be a much lesser place without him.”
Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA) said that Murtha “cast a long shadow and so many of us were privileged to seek its shade.”
As the senior member of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, Murtha was known to hold court with fellow lawmakers in a back portion of the House chamber during votes. Carney said he would miss Murtha’s “big Irish smile.” But added “he Pennsylvania corner of the House chamber will never be the same."
- Fox’s Trish Turner and Dominique Pastre contributed to this report.