Rep. Murtha Dies at Age 77

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Rep. John Murtha, a powerful voice on defense issues who represented a working-class Pennsylvania district in Congress for 36 years, died this afternoon at a hospital in Virginia, his office announced.

Murtha, D-Pa., was chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and was the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress. Murtha had been hospitalized with an infection following gallbladder surgery last month.

A prominent defense hawk, Murtha became closely associated in recent years with efforts to win funding for defense-related projects, including several that would benefit his Johnstown-based district.

His decision to call for an end to the Iraq War in 2005 -- after voting for it -- was a watershed moment in Democrats’ efforts to unite against President George W. Bush in his second term. Nancy Pelosi pressed for Murtha to be elected House majority leader after she became House speaker in 2007, though the Democratic caucus went with Steny Hoyer instead.

Murtha’s district is certain to be hotly contested this year. Republicans have long viewed his predominantly rural district as a prime pick-up opportunity. Murtha’s was the only congressional district in the country to support John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008.

The statement from his congressional office follows:

Congressman John P. Murtha (PA-12) passed away peacefully this afternoon at 1:18 p.m. at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, VA. At his bedside was his family.

Murtha, 77, was Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in February of 1974, Murtha dedicated his life to serving his country both in the military and in the halls of Congress. A former Marine, he became the first Vietnam War combat Veteran elected to the U.S. Congress.

This past Saturday, February 6, 2010, Murtha became Pennsylvania’s longest serving Member of Congress.

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