Hoyer: "Drain the swamp" not my line

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday noted that it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), not him, who promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington.

Pelosi famously vowed in 2006 to “drain the swamp” that ensnared Republican members and their leaders during the George W. Bush administration.

During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Hoyer clarified that he has never used that phrase.

"I didn’t use that term," Hoyer said when asked if he thinks Democrats have "drained the swamp."  "What I believed and continue to believe is that we have made the ethics process work, and we have made it work in a meaningful way."

Hoyer's office pushed back against reports that his clarification was indicative of any kind of split between him and other Democratic leaders, including the Speaker, saying it was only in response to a question about whether Democrats have been able to "drain the swamp" as they promised to do.

Still, after a year of working seamlessly to pass a difficult agenda through a very ideologically diverse House, Hoyer and Pelosi have recently begun to show signs of divergence.  Hoyer earlier this month said policymakers should consider raising the retirement age.  He reiterated that position on Tuesday, even though Pelosi last week and again over the weekend clearly indicated she was opposed to the idea.

Pelosi defeated Hoyer in 2001 for the position of House minority whip, and five years later the California Democrat endorsed Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) over Hoyer in the race for majority leader. Hoyer easily defeated Murtha, who died in February.

However, Hoyer and the Speaker have worked well together in recent years.

Their complementary styles have helped pass the party’s top legislative priorities through a very ideologically diverse House.

Ethics remains an area, though, in which the two leaders seem to have the most trouble staying on the same page, rhetorically or otherwise.

Aside from Hoyer’s unsolicited declaration that he and Pelosi do not share a set of talking points when it comes to the ethics, the recent resignation of another member who was under investigation — former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) — showcased a split over how the two handled an ethics scandal.

As reports first began to trickle out on March 2 of this year that Massa’s retirement announcement was not, in fact, due to the reemergence of cancer — as the New York Democrat initially claimed — but was more closely tied to charges that he had sexually harassed male members of his staff, Hoyer’s press office scrambled to alert media outlets of the back story of Hoyer’s direct involvement in bringing about the ethics inquiry of Massa.

Soon after learning in early February that Massa’s staff had lodged complaints with Hoyer’s office, Hoyer’s senior staff immediately told the majority leader. The result was an ultimatum: Alert the ethics committee personally within 48 hours or the majority leader would.

Not only did Hoyer’s office go out of its way to explain his level of involvement, the level of involvement itself appears to have differed significantly from that of the Speaker.  

When Hoyer became aware, he sought quick action. Pelosi apparently never became aware in the first place. And Pelosi herself described her lack of knowledge as appropriate.

Pelosi explained during a March 4 press conference that she had only become aware of the allegations against Massa the day prior — almost a month after Hoyer had — because while Hoyer’s staff alerted him, Pelosi’s staff did not alert her.

“I asked my staff, I said, have there been any rumors about any of this before?” she said. “There had been a rumor, but just that, no formal notification to our office that anything — a one, two, three person removed rumor that had been reported to Mr. Hoyer’s office that had been reported to my staff, which they didn’t report to me, because, you know what? This is rumor city. Every single day there are rumors. I have a job to do and not to be the receiver of rumors.”

The House ethics committee is investigating the Massa case.