Nancy Pelosi exit interview: First woman Speaker of the House says she’s ‘hopefully the first of many’
Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in U.S. politics, is stepping down from leadership, but will remain a member who will need no official title to wield influence.
WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi is proud of being the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “hopefully, the first of many,” she says.
Her goal when she arrived in Congress was not to break a glass ceiling but to increase the number of women in the House.
“I never intended to run for leadership. But I did intend that we would have more women in Congress.”
When Pelosi was a 47-year-old freshman from San Francisco in 1987, females were only 23 of the 435 members — 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans.
According to Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, in the current House, there are 124 women — 91 Democrats and 33 Republicans. When the new Congress is sworn-in next January, the House will have 149 females — 107 Democrats and 42 Republicans.
Pelosi, 82, the most powerful woman in U.S. politics, is stepping down from leadership — she has been the top Democrat for nearly 20 years — but will remain a member who will need no official title to wield influence. She’s been speaker twice — from 2007 to 2011 and 2019 through January.
Pelosi has been speaker and minority leader with four presidents, three of whom she will name and one she won’t. As she puts it, she served with “President Bush, President Obama, and President Whatshisname — and then speaker with President Biden.”
She is reflecting on her historic tenure with several female journalists a few hours before President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed landmark legislation protecting same-sex marriage, and for the occasion, Pelosi is wearing a purple suit — the color showing support for the LGBTQ community.
The gathering is in the “Board of Education” room on the first floor of the Capitol, a clubby retreat for House leaders through the years. Vice President Harry Truman was with Speaker Sam Rayburn in this room when he got the call that President Franklin Roosevelt had died.
Texan Rayburn put his mark on the room — adding a painting of the Texas seal on one wall. Pelosi is pointing out her two contributions, the first in 2020, a mural showing the Golden Gate Bridge, commemorating California statehood in 1850.
Another mural, just completed months ago, marks the passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution — giving women the right to vote — with white-clad suffragists marching in front of the Capitol. She says she plans to bring in the women members the next day to “come in and see it because it’s brand, brand, new.”
Pelosi’s legislative legacy includes her biggest lift and major accomplishment, passing President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. She ticks off a few more: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the same-sex marriage act; hate crimes legislation; fighting HIV and AIDS; and the more recent wins since Biden has been president, including the infrastructure bill.
The conversation turns to abortion rights, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, her being a devout Catholic and the American Catholic bishops she jabs for being relentless in trying to undermine Roe v. Wade. “They just would not stop. And thank God for the nuns. The nuns were fabulous.”
Known for her discipline, Pelosi said that when it comes to the federal loss of abortion rights this year, “usually I like to talk about what I’m thinking, but on this, it is a feeling thing.”
“...If there’s one issue that is about disrespect, about turning back the clock on women and their opportunities in life and the rest, it’s this issue.”
Pelosi took some shots at Democrats and commentators who in the run-up to the November mid-term elections worried that Democrats were relying too much on the abortion issue to turn out their voters. “We stopped the red tide, which was a dodo whatever that thing was supposed to be.”
Republicans for years have demonized Pelosi to rally their troops, claiming every Democrat was a lefty like the “San Francisco liberal.”
But the truth is, Pelosi knows every House member does not come from a district like hers, which is why — in her quest to win Democratic seats — she advocated for and recruited Democrats who do not share all of her progressive politics.
She was asked to reflect on this — and in reply cited a scene from daughter Alexandra Pelosi’s new documentary, “Pelosi in the House,” that debuted last week on HBO. “One thing she has in there is my talking to Joe Biden on the phone, as a candidate ... saying, ‘The one thing I want to tell you is don’t go too far to the left, because that’s not where the Electoral College is won.’”
Asked about a memoir, Pelosi said, “I probably will write a memoir, because I’ve got to set the record straight about certain things.”
In her early years in the House, men ran the place, and the only time she would hear from ranking Democrats was when they wanted her to host a fundraiser in California. “I really thought we would have a woman president long before we would have any change here.”
And to that point, “The first time I was in the Democratic speaker’s office was when I was speaker.”
In Pelosi’s House all her members — a group now so diverse she likens them to “sort of a kaleidoscope” — are welcome.
“They’re in there all the time. It’s a different day,” said Pelosi as she wraps up a historic run, with her enduring legacy opening doors for others, once shut out, to walk through.