At 64, Hoyer is, in the main, the model of civility, a legislative veteran of almost four decades whose fierce advocacy and party loyalty are tempered by a respectful manner and a rare drive to work with all of his congressional colleagues.
"Steny is not one who looks for a compromise," said former Rep. Steve Bartlett, R-Texas (1983-91), a longtime friend who heads The Financial Services Roundtable. "He looks for common ground."
With little of that to be found these days, Hoyer is building within the Democratic Caucus what he calls "the psychology of the consensus," the notion that Democrats should feel like they are part of a team and should have to be convinced to break ranks.
Last Nov. 22, in his first year as the person in charge of corralling Democrats on floor votes, Hoyer used his team-building prowess to help orchestrate a near defeat of the Republicans' Medicare overhaul bill (PL 108-173).
He persuaded party members, even a few who would eventually switch to support the measure, to vote "no" early. His was a strategy that allowed opponents of the bill to claim a temporary majority of as many as 219 and forced Republicans to hold the roll call open for almost three hours until they could get enough members to change their votes to "yes," securing passage. (2003 CQ Weekly, p. 2958)
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., says Hoyer's determination and experience — he was first elected to the Maryland Senate in 1966 and later became its youngest president — prepared him for his current job, in which he has helped meld the most unified group of House Democrats in at least 41 years. "He's smart and he understands human nature and he works at it," Frank said.
In holding Democrats together, however, Hoyer has also contributed to the deepening partisan rift that runs against his nature. But that has not stopped him from maintaining good relations with some Republicans.
"His word is good," said Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, whose district is separated from Hoyer's by the Potomac River. "That's what makes it easy to deal with him."