Democrats on Thursday embraced Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as the first woman House speaker in history, then quickly snubbed her, selecting a rival as her lieutenant against her wishes.
Congressman Steny Hoyer was chosen as House majority leader in a 149-86 secret-ballot vote. Pelosi had pushed for Congressman John Murtha for the No. 2 post in the House.
The balloting marked a personal triumph for Hoyer, but also a snub to Pelosi, moments after the rank and file unanimously selected her to become speaker, or leader, of the House of Representatives when it convenes in January.
"Let the healing begin," Pelosi said after Hoyer had eased past Murtha, who is a prominent opponent of the war in Iraq.
Hoyer, a 25-year veteran of Congress, added: "The Republicans need to know, the president needs to know and the country needs to know our caucus is unified today."
Hoyer received a congratulatory call from US President George W. Bush, who was traveling in Asia, press secretary Tony Snow told reporters on Air Force One.
Hoyer, Murtha and several other Democrats predicted there would be no lingering effects from the bruising leadership campaign as the party looks ahead to taking control of the House in January after a dozen years in the minority.
"It created these tensions that we now have to work on," Democratic Congressman Jose Serrano, a Hoyer supporter, said.
Democrats chose their leaders for the next two years as lawmakers in both houses labored to wrap up work for the expiring 109th Congress and look ahead to the 110th, which convenes on Jan. 4.
House Republicans were to hold elections yesterday, with a two-way race for minority leader.
Congressman John Boehner, the current majority leader, faces a challenge from Congressman Mike Pence. A third contender, Congressman Joe Barton, dropped out of the race and endorsed Boehner.
Congressman Roy Blunt, the incumbent Republican whip, also drew an opponent, Congressman John Shadegg. The whip handles party discipline.
Speaker Dennis Hastert has decided to step down from leadership in the wake of his party's election defeat.
Pelosi, 66, faced neither challenger nor controversy in her own race to become the Democrats' choice for speaker -- and the first woman in history -- after four years as party leader.
Her ascension awaits a vote by the full House on Jan. 4.
"We made history and now we will make progress for the American people," the Californian told fellow Democrats moments after her selection in the closed meeting, according to officials familiar with her remarks.