John Murtha

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John Murtha
John Murtha portrait 2008.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 12th district
In office
February 5, 1974 – February 8, 2010
Preceded by John Saylor
Succeeded by Mark Critz
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 72nd district
In office
May 20, 1969 – November 30, 1973[1]
Preceded by Edward McNally[a]
Succeeded by James Whelan
Personal details
Born John Patrick Murtha, Jr.
(1932-06-17)June 17, 1932
New Martinsville, West Virginia
Died February 8, 2010(2010-02-08) (aged 77)
Arlington, Virginia
Resting place Grandview Cemetery Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Joyce Murtha
Residence Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Alma mater Washington and Jefferson College
University of Pittsburgh
Occupation Small business owner
Religion Roman Catholicism
Awards Bronze Star
Purple Heart (2)
Combat Action Ribbon
Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry
American Spirit Honor Medal
Navy Distinguished Public Service Award[2]
Signature John Murtha's signature
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1952–1990
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Battles/wars Vietnam War
a. ^ McNally was elected to represent the 72nd district in November 1968. However, he died shortly after his election, and thus was unable to be sworn-in as representative for the district on January 7, 1969.[3]

John Patrick "Jack" Murtha, Jr. (/ˈmɜːrθə/; June 17, 1932 – February 8, 2010) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Murtha, a Democrat, represented Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1974 until his death in 2010.[4][5][6][7]

A former Marine Corps officer, Murtha was the first Vietnam War veteran elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. A member of the Pennsylvania House from 1969 to 1974, he narrowly won a special election to Congress in 1974 and was successively reelected every two years until his death. In the first decade of the 21st century, Murtha had been best known for his calls for a withdrawal of American forces in Iraq, as well as questions about his ethics.[8]

In 2006, after the Democrats won control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections he made a failed bid to be elected House Majority Leader during the 110th Congress (2007–2009) with the support of the new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.[9][10] He lost to Steny Hoyer of Maryland.[11] After the Republican's defeat to the Democratic Majority in 2006 Murtha re-assumed his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. He had previously chaired this subcommittee from 1989 to 1995 and served as its ranking member from 1995 to 2007.


Murtha was born into an Irish-American family in New Martinsville, West Virginia, near the border with Ohio and Pennsylvania, and grew up in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, a largely suburban county east of Pittsburgh. He was the son of Mary Edna (née Ray) and John Patrick Murtha, Sr.[12]

As a youth, he became an Eagle Scout. He also worked delivering newspapers and at a gas station before graduating from The Kiski School, an all-male boarding school in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania.

Murtha left Washington and Jefferson College in 1952 to join the Marine Corps and was awarded the American Spirit Honor Medal for displaying outstanding leadership qualities during training. He became a drill instructor at Parris Island and was selected for Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. He was then assigned to the Second Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. As an undergraduate, Murtha was initiated into the Kappa Sigma Fraternity.

Murtha remained in the Marine Forces Reserve and ran a small business, Johnstown Minute Car Wash (which still operates in the West End section of Johnstown). He also attended the University of Pittsburgh on the G.I. Bill, and received a degree in economics. Murtha later took graduate courses from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He married his wife Joyce on June 10, 1955. They had three children: daughter Donna and twin sons Patrick and John M., who live in Johnstown.

Murtha left the Marines in 1955. He remained in the Reserves after his discharge from active duty until he volunteered for service in the Vietnam War, serving from 1966 to 1967, serving as a battalion staff officer (S-2 Intelligence Section), receiving the Bronze Star with Valor device, two Purple Hearts, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel in 1990, receiving the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

Political career

Soon after returning from Vietnam, Murtha won the Democratic nomination for what was then the 22nd District, which was based in Johnstown. He lost fairly handily to longtime Republican incumbent John Saylor.

Murtha was elected to represent the 72nd legislative district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in a special election on May 20, 1969. The election was triggered by the death of Representative Edward McNally, who died in November 1968.[13] He was elected to a full term in 1970.

Congressman Saylor died in October 1973, nine months into his 13th term. Murtha immediately jumped into the special election contest in what was now the 12th District. In the February 1974 special election, Murtha defeated one of Saylor's former aides, Harry Fox, by only 242 votes. He defeated Fox by a significantly wider margin that November and was reelected 17 times.

Murtha faced tough primary challenges in 1982, 1990 and again in 2002. The 1982 challenge occurred when the Republican-controlled state legislature took advantage of Murtha's connection to Abscam, and incorporated most of the district of fellow Democrat and Vietnam War veteran Don Bailey of Westmoreland County into the 12th District.

File:John Murtha.jpg
Murtha dedicates the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown in 1993.

The 2002 challenge occurred when the state legislature redrew the district of fellow Democrat Frank Mascara to make it more Republican-friendly,[citation needed] shifting a large chunk of Mascara's former territory into Murtha's district. Mascara opted to run against Murtha in the Democratic primary, since the new 12th contained more of Mascara's old territory than Murtha's. However, Mascara was badly defeated.

An earlier official photo of Congressman Murtha

In 2006, Murtha's Republican challenger was Diana Irey, a county commissioner from Washington County, the heart of Mascara's former district. Irey attacked Murtha for his criticism of the Iraq war. Even though Irey was Murtha's strongest Republican opponent in decades, she polled well behind Murtha throughout the campaign. An October 12, 2006 poll by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review showed Murtha with a commanding lead over Irey, 57%–30%.[14] In the November election, Murtha won 61%–39%.[15]

On June 9, 2006, Murtha informed Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that he would run for Majority Leader if the Democrats gained control of the House in the 2006 midterm elections. Despite Murtha receiving Pelosi's support, current Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer was elected to the post.[9]

On March 18, 2008, Murtha endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady and then Senator from New York, in her bid for the presidency.[16]

On February 6, 2010, two days before his death, Murtha became the longest serving Pennsylvania congressman in history.[17] Although he was not sworn into office until February 20, 1974, House of Representatives rules state that Murtha’s service began at his election because the seat was vacant.

In 2009, Murtha heard details from Fort Benning U.S. Army Soldiers on how their current uniforms and equipment were not providing camouflage in Iraq and Afghanistan during a personal visit. Murtha immediately took action and convinced the Army to fix the camouflage problem resulting in MultiCam being selected by the Secretary of the Army John McHugh for all incoming Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan in 2010, only weeks after Murtha had died.[18]

Abscam investigation

John Murtha with Governor Robert P. Casey.

In 1980, during his fourth term as a Congressman, Murtha became embroiled in the Abscam investigation, which targeted dozens of congressmen. The investigation entailed FBI operatives posing as intermediaries for Saudi nationals hoping to bribe their way through the immigration process into the United States. Murtha met with these operatives and was videotaped. He did agree to testify against Frank Thompson (D-NJ) and John Murphy (D-NY), the two Congressmen mentioned as participants in the deal at the same meeting and who were later videotaped placing the cash bribes in their trousers. The FBI videotaped Murtha responding to an offer of $50,000, with Murtha saying, "I'm not interested... at this point. [If] we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested, maybe I won't," right after Murtha had offered to provide names of businesses and banks in his district where money could be invested legally.[19] The U.S. Attorney's Office reasoned that Murtha's intent was to obtain investment in his district. Full length viewing of the tape shows Murtha citing prospective investment opportunities that could return "500 or 1000" miners to work.

Doubt regarding war heroism

A recurring accusation against Murtha, which first became a political issue in the 1994 congressional campaign, is that he allegedly did not deserve his war medals. A January 13, 2006, CNS article quoted official records, a June 1, 1967 report in the The Tribune-Democrat, as well as people who were either former political opponents of Murtha or who were dead or incapacitated, casting doubt on the two Purple Hearts Murtha earned while serving in the Vietnam War.[20] The next day, the Washington Post repeated the article's allegations.[21]

Cindy Abram, a spokeswoman for Murtha, called the allegations ”an attempt to distract attention from what's happening in Iraq."[21] Former Democratic Congressman and political rival of Murtha, Donald A. Bailey said Murtha had confessed to him that he had done nothing to deserve his Purple Hearts and demanded an apology for being called a liar. He added that documents containing the considerations behind the awards should be easy to get, and urged him to release his full military records in order to clear up the controversy. Murtha, however, declined to do that. Dr. William Choby, who ran against Murtha four times, said that it was the credibility of those combat medals which became the basis of Murtha's entire political career.[20][22]

Earmarks and campaign contributions

Murtha was targeted by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress.[23][24][25]

In September 2006 the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) listed Murtha under Five Members to Watch in its Second Annual Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report. The report cited Murtha's steering of defense appropriations to clients of KSA Consulting, which employed his brother Robert, and the PMA Group, founded by Paul Magliocchetti, a former senior staffer on the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense.[26]

In 2008, Esquire Magazine named him one of the 10 worst members of Congress because of his opposition to ethics reform and the $100 million a year he brought to his district in earmarks.[27] The Wall Street Journal has called him "one of Congress's most unapologetic earmarkers."[28] According to the Pennsylvania Report, Murtha was one of "Pennsylvania’s most powerful congressmen" and a "master of crossing the aisle and bringing pork into his district."[29]

In February 2009, CQ Politics reported that Murtha was one of 104 U.S. representatives to earmark funds in the 2008 Defense appropriations spending bill for a lobbying group that had contributed to his past election campaigns. The spending bill, which was managed by Murtha in his capacity as Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, secured $38.1 million for clients of the PMA Group in the single fiscal law.[30] The PMA Group was under investigation by the FBI.[31]

In March 2009, the Washington Post reported that a Pennsylvania defense research center regularly consulted with two "handlers" close to Murtha while it received nearly $250 million in federal funding via Murtha's earmarks. The center then channeled a significant portion of the funding to companies that were among Murtha's campaign supporters.[32]

Views on the 2003 Iraq War

Murtha voted for the October 10, 2002 resolution[33] that authorized the use of force against Iraq. However, he later began expressing doubts about the war. On March 17, 2004, when Republicans offered a “War in Iraq Anniversary Resolution” that “affirms that the United States and the world have been made safer with the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime from power in Iraq,”[34] when JD Hayworth called for a recorded vote, Murtha voted against it.[35]

Still, in early 2005 Murtha argued against the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. “A premature withdrawal of our troops based on a political timetable could rapidly devolve into a civil war which would leave America’s foreign policy in disarray as countries question not only America’s judgment but also its perseverance,” he stated.[36]

2005 Resolution on removing American forces from Iraq

On November 17, 2005, Murtha submitted H.J. Res. 73 in the House of Representatives, calling for the redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying, "The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.”[37]

The bill cited lack of progress towards stabilizing Iraq, the possibility that a draft would be required to sustain sufficient troop numbers, Iraqi disapproval of US forces and approval of attacks on the soldiers, and the increasing costs of the war. The bill proposed that deployment to Iraq be suspended and that US Marines establish an "over-the-horizon" presence in nearby countries.[38]

Murtha's comments forced a heated debate on the floor of the House on November 18.[39] Republicans led by Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, responded by proposing their own resolution (H. Res. 571), which many Republicans said was intended to demonstrate that those calling for immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq were “out of the mainstream.” Murtha himself took the floor during debate on the resolution after the Democrats yielded all their time to him, and denounced the Hunter resolution as a sham. As expected, Hunter's resolution was defeated, with only three congressmen voting aye.

Jean Schmidt and the “coward” controversy

On November 19, 2005, during debate on adopting the rule for the resolution, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) made a statement attributed to Danny Bubp, an Ohio state Representative and Marine Corps reservist. The statement, "He also asked me to give Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run; Marines never do," was seen as an unwarranted "cheap shot" against Murtha, and outraged Democrats brought House business to a halt for ten minutes until Schmidt herself asked and received permission to withdraw her comments. Bubp has since stated that he never mentioned Murtha when making the quoted comment. He added that he would never question the courage of a fellow Marine. Bubp later said, “I don't want to be interjected into this. I wish (Congresswoman Schmidt) never used my name.”[40]

Haditha, Iraq killings

The Haditha incident occurred on November 19, 2005, and since then there have been differing accounts of exactly what took place.

In November 2005 Murtha announced that a military investigation into the Haditha killings had concluded that U.S. Marines had intentionally killed innocent civilians.[41] Referring to the first report about Haditha[42] in Time magazine, Murtha said:[43]

"It's much worse than reported in Time magazine. There was no fire fight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. And that's what the report is going to tell."

The Marine Corps responded to Murtha's announcement by stating that "there is an ongoing investigation; therefore, any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process."[44] Murtha was criticized by conservatives for presenting a version of events as simple fact before an official investigation had been concluded.[45]

In August 2006, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich filed a lawsuit against Murtha for character defamation during an ongoing investigation into the Haditha incident. In April 2009 this suit was dismissed by a federal appeals court, which ruled that Murtha could not be sued because he was acting in his official role as a lawmaker when he made the statements.[46]

On December 21, 2006, the US military charged Wuterich with 12 counts of unpremeditated murder against individuals and one count of the murder of six people "while engaged in an act inherently dangerous to others."[47] Charges were subsequently dropped against seven of the eight Marines involved: Capt. Lucas McConnell,[48] Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani,[49] Sgt. Sanick Dela Cruz,[50] Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum,[51] Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt, Capt. Randy Stone, and 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson. Only Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich is still facing trial on 9 counts of involuntary manslaughter.[52]

Sun-Sentinel story and correction

In a June 24, 2006, speech at Florida International University,[53] Murtha said that the military presence in Iraq was hurting U.S. credibility, citing a poll by the Pew Research Center indicating that people in several countries considered the U.S. in Iraq to be a greater threat to world peace than either Iran or North Korea.[54] When the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported the speech on June 25, it asserted without further evidence that it was Murtha's own view that the U.S. was a greater threat to world peace: “American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran, U.S. Representative John Murtha, D-Pa., said to a crowd of more than 200 in North Miami Saturday afternoon.”[55]

The Sun-Sentinel story was picked up by the wire services and the Drudge Report website,[56] leading several conservative pundits, including Bill O’Reilly[57] Tucker Carlson,[58] and Newt Gingrich,[59] to comment. After the Sun-Sentinel issued a correction,[60] O'Reilly publicly apologized.[61]

2008 Presidential Election

After having endorsed Hillary Clinton, commenting on the prospects for the election of Barack Obama during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Murtha became the subject of controversy after deriding many of his own constituents as "racists" who would not vote for Obama because he is black. In response to the outrage at his comments, he apologized but then reiterated the point by saying, "[T]here's still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black. This whole area, years ago, was really redneck."[62]

Political views

Murtha generally opposed gun control, earning an A from the National Rifle Association.[63]

In 2004, he was one of only two congressmen to vote for a measure proposing reinstatement of the draft.[64]

Murtha voted for the Affordable Healthcare for America Act (HR 3692), which passed in the House 220-215 on November 7, 2009.[65] He said of the bill, "For nearly a century, both Democrats and Republicans have failed to enact comprehensive health care reform. Today's historic vote moves us closer to solving America's health care crisis." [66] However, Murtha did not support allowing abortions as part of health care reform. He voted for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the health care bill that prohibits elective abortions for people covered by the public healthcare plan and to prohibit people receiving federal assistance from purchasing a private healthcare plan that includes abortions, except when the woman’s life is in danger.[67] He also voted for a bill to prohibit pregnant minors from crossing state borders to obtain abortions.[68]

In August 2009, Murtha refused Republican challenger Tim Burns' invitation to attend a town hall meeting focused on healthcare (at the time, Murtha had not yet hosted a town hall meeting);[69] however, Murtha had held several conference call sessions with his constituents focused on healthcare.[69]

Murtha, a pro-life Democrat, did not receive favorable ratings from abortion and reproductive health interest groups.[70] Planned Parenthood, whose stated purpose is “to provide comprehensive reproductive and complementary health care,” gave him a rating of 50% in 2009.[71][72] He received a rating of 50% from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which advocates “access to voluntary, comprehensive and culturally sensitive family planning and reproductive health care services and ... reproductive freedom for all.” [71][73]

Death and legacy

File:Murtha burial Johnstown.jpg
A joint service honor guard bearing the casket of John P. Murtha; Johnstown Pennsylvania, February 16, 2010

Murtha was first hospitalized with gallbladder problems for a few days in December 2009 and had surgery on January 28, 2010, at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Longtime friend and fellow Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Bob Brady said Murtha's large intestine was damaged during the normally routine laparoscopic surgery, causing an infection.[74][75][76] Due to the complication, Murtha was again hospitalized two days later, and died on the afternoon of February 8, 2010, in the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia, with his family by his side.[77][78] He was buried on February 16, 2010, at Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.[79]

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on the day of his death, "With the passing of John Murtha, America has lost a great patriot." House Republican Leader John Boehner said, "Our nation has lost a decorated veteran."[80][81]

On April 9, 2010, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed an official memo to the Chief of Naval Operations, designating the naming of an Amphibious transport dock (LPD), a type of naval warship, as the John P. Murtha (LPD 26).[82] The Navy Times said the official announcement "added fuel to an already smoldering backlash online."[83]

In October 2011, it was revealed that the FBI had investigated Murtha for possible ethics violations.[84] No charges were ever filed.[85]

A special election was held to fill the seat left vacant by the late congressman, taking place on May 18 to coincide with that state's primaries for Senate and Governor.[86] The Democratic candidate, Mark Critz, defeated Republican candidate Tim Burns to win Murtha's seat.[87]

See also


  1. Per Article II, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the legislative session ended on November 30, 1973
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  5. Obituary Los Angeles Times, 9 February 2010.
  6. Obituary Washington Post, 9 February 2010.
  7. Obituary London Independent, 10 February 2010.
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  57. The O'Reilly Factor President Bush takes New York Times and Other Committed Left Media, June 27, 2006. Bill O'Reilly: "According to The Florida Sun-Sentinel, usually a very accurate paper, Congressman John Murtha actually said that the American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran. Now "Talking Points" believes Murtha has lost all perspective and did months ago, but his message is firmly entrenched in America's far-left precincts."
  58. MSNBC, June 26, 2006. Tucker Carlson: "[Murtha] is in the thrall of people who, I think, have hostility towards the United States.
  59. Fox News Channel, June 26, 2006. Newt Gingrich: "For an American congressman to say that is beyond any acceptable behavior, and I would hope the Congress would move to censure him."
  60. South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Corrections and clarifications for June 28 at the Wayback Machine (archived July 7, 2006). Accessed February 11, 2013.
  61. The O'Reilly Factor: Cutting Through the Fog About Military Tribunals... June 30, 2006. O'Reilly: "The South Florida Sun-Sentinel misquoted Congressman John Murtha in remarks about who is dangerous to the world. The newspaper has apologized, and since we picked up the paper's quote we should apologize, as well. We did source the Sun-Sentinel, but I should have checked it out myself and called Murtha's office. Sorry we didn't do that."
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  66. "Murtha Statement On House Passage Of The Affordable Health Care For America Act". Project Vote Smart. Retrieved 2009-11-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  67. "Prohibiting Federally Funded Abortion Services". Project Vote Smart. Retrieved 2009-11-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  68. "Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act". Project Vote Smart. Retrieved 2009-11-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  76. Hefling, Kimberly. "Congressman: Murtha's intestine damaged in surgery. (February 8, 2010) The Washington Post. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
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  82. Ewing, Phillip (April 13, 2010). "Navy to name LPD 26 for Rep. John Murtha". NavyTimes. Retrieved April 13, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  83. "Controversy flares over ship named for Murtha" by Philip Ewing,, April 28, 2010, As Retrieved 2010-04-28
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  87. "Dems win special Pa. election, retain Murtha seat".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Books by Murtha



United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Saylor
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district

Succeeded by
Mark Critz
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Preceded by
Edward McNally1
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 72nd District
Succeeded by
James Whelan
Notes and references
1. As representative-elect.