Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D)
Elected: June 1987, 11th full term.
Born: March 26, 1940, Baltimore, MD .
Home: San Francisco.
Education: Trinity Col., B.A. 1962.
Family: Married (Paul); 5 children.
Professional Career: CA Dem. Party, Northern Chmn., 1977–81, St. Chmn., 1981–83; DSCC Finance Chmn., 1985–87; PR exec., Ogilvy & Mather, 1986–87.
The 8th District is represented by Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House. Elected in June 1987, she has the energy and shrewdness of one who has handled the most delicate of political chores, and the charm and unflappability of one who is the mother of five and grandmother of seven. Pelosi grew up on Albemarle Street in Baltimore’s Little Italy, just east of downtown. Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., served in the House from 1939-47 and was mayor of Baltimore for 12 years after that. Her mother, Annunciata D’Alesandro, was an indefatigable political organizer, and her brother, Thomas, was mayor from 1967-71. Pelosi says of her parents, “What I got from them was about economic fairness. That was the difference between Democrats and Republicans all those years ago.” She graduated from Trinity University in Washington, D.C., where she met her husband. After marrying, they moved to his hometown of San Francisco. There he became a successful real estate investor, and she raised their children and got into local Democratic politics.
|Nancy Pelosi (D)||204,996||(72%)||($2,727,177)|
|Cindy Sheehan (I)||46,118||(16%)||($628,411)|
|Dana Walsh (R)||27,614||(10%)||($637,731)|
|Philip Berg (Lib)||6,504||(2%)|
|Nancy Pelosi (D)||83,510||(89%)|
|Shirley Golub (D)||10,105||(11%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (80%), 2004 (83%), 2002 (80%), 2000 (85%), 1998 (86%), 1996 (84%), 1994 (82%), 1992 (82%), 1990 (77%), 1988 (76%), 1987 (63%)
At first, Pelosi impressed rough-hewn U.S. Rep. John Burton of California as just another stylish hostess in a city that had many of them. But she soon got Burton’s attention and that of his older brother, U.S. Rep. Phillip Burton, the de facto liberal leader of the House, who lost his race for majority leader to Texas Democrat Jim Wright by one vote in 1976. That year, Pelosi returned East to run the Maryland campaign of presidential candidate Jerry Brown, the quirky liberal governor of California. She was able to relate both to “Governor Moonbeam,” as Brown was dubbed, and to the practical-minded politicians she had met through her parents. In 1977, she became chairman of the Northern California Democratic Party, and four years later, she became chairman of the California Democratic Party. The positions required a considerable amount of diplomacy. Assembly Majority Leader Howard Berman of Los Angeles was attempting to oust Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy of San Francisco, a protracted struggle out of which Democrat Willie Brown of San Francisco emerged with the speakership. Pelosi managed to remain on good terms with all of them and to help Democrats hold majorities in the Legislature.
Then John Burton declined to run for re-election in a new Marin-and-San-Francisco-based district. Some Democrats sounded out Pelosi, whose Presidio Heights home was in the district, but she declined to run, and the seat went instead to Marin-based Democrat Barbara Boxer. In the next few years, Pelosi worked with Mayor Feinstein to land the 1984 Democratic National Convention for San Francisco. In 1985, she ran for Democratic National Chairman, but lost to Paul Kirk. Technically, Pelosi was still a stay-at-home mother, but she was dealing with politicians of the first order of magnitude or soon to become so. Gov. Brown was a presidential candidate in 1976 and 1992, Phil Burton was a major power in the House, and John Burton was later president of the California Senate. Berman was elected to Congress and now chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, McCarthy became lieutenant governor, Willie Brown remained speaker for 15 years, and Feinstein is now a U.S. senator. This was a fast political track. In April 1983, Phil Burton, who chain-smoked Pall Malls and drank vodka from tumbler glasses, dropped dead at 57. Elected to succeed him was his widow, Sala Burton, who idolized his record and whose political instincts were as shrewd as his own. But her health failed too. In 1987, as she was dying of cancer, she told her friends whom she wanted to succeed her: Nancy Pelosi.
Only two years before, Pelosi had told the press, “I won’t be running for office.” Her children were not yet grown, her husband’s business interests kept him mostly in California, and their net worth was not yet such that she could afford to self-finance a campaign. (The couple eventually became extremely wealthy, with houses in San Francisco, a vineyard in the Napa Valley, a townhome in the Sierras and a condominium in Washington.) But she ran, moving her residence from Presidio Heights to a Pacific Heights rental apartment (Presidio Heights is back in her district now). Her chief opponent in the Democratic primary was San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, who had succeeded Milk after the assassination. San Francisco’s gay community at that time was not as mainstream as it is now, but Britt, who was gay, had a good record in office, and Pelosi had to work hard to beat him 35%-31%.
There seemed to be no clue in Pelosi’s early work in the House that she would seek a leadership position as Phil Burton had. Instead she took the lead on important issues of local sensitivity. One was the Presidio. Burton had inserted into legislation a provision that transferred the Presidio from the military to the Interior Department. The problem was that it was so expensive to maintain, it threatened to exceed the National Park Service’s budget for it. Through several Congresses, Pelosi worked to get bipartisan support for a funding source, and in 1997 created the Presidio Trust, with a declining appropriation scheduled to be phased out in 2012. Another sensitive issue was human rights, especially in China. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, she sponsored an amendment to give Chinese students the right to remain in the United States. President George H. W. Bush vetoed it. In 1991, she became the lead sponsor of the bill to make China’s most-favored-nation status conditional on human rights reforms. The House overrode Bush’s veto, but it was upheld in the Senate. After that, Pelosi led the annual fight against normalizing trade relations with China.
She did all this at some political risk. Pelosi’s position was by no means universally popular with Asian-Americans in her district; many thought that the United States should trade and negotiate quietly with China. One of her chief adversaries was her San Francisco neighbor, Sen. Feinstein; for many years, they lived in houses just a few blocks apart in Presidio Heights. Pelosi courted support from people on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, especially religious conservatives in the Republican caucus who also wanted to remain vigilant on China’s human rights record. At the time of the September 11 attacks, Pelosi was the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, where she cooperated with Republican Chairman Porter Goss of Florida. She joined in the committee’s conclusion that, while the intelligence community did not have specific evidence in advance, it did have information that was relevant to the attacks. On other issues, Pelosi maintained an almost perfectly liberal voting record and established herself as a leader in encouraging family planning and environmental protection overseas.
Her move into the leadership was persistent, shrewd and well-organized. In 1997, as a member of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, she doggedly pursued ethics charges against Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich and worked with Minority Whip David Bonior in using scorched-earth tactics against him. (Gingrich had used a nearly identical strategy to weaken former Democratic Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, who ultimately stepped down amid an ethics investigation.) In 1999, she launched a campaign for majority whip, anticipating that Democrats would win a majority in 2000, which they nearly did. Her opponent was Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland. They were old acquaintances, having served as interns for Sen. Daniel Brewster of Maryland in the 1960s, but not confreres: There were considerable stylistic and ideological differences. Many of the Democratic women in the House felt there should be a woman in the leadership. Pelosi, who raised $3 million for Democratic candidates that cycle, said she was not running as a woman, but “the fact that I am a woman is an enhancement, because we absolutely must have diversity in the leadership.” But in 2000, Republicans held on to their majority, and the race for majority whip was moot. Not for long though. Michigan’s Republican Legislature, in drawing new congressional districts, put Bonior in a district it was plain he could not win, and he decided to run for governor. He resigned as minority whip, and Pelosi was off and running against Hoyer. Pelosi said that Democrats needed to refocus on grassroots organization, money and message. Some supporters played up her potential to become a celebrity—“a glamorous grandmother who knocks people off their feet,” as Hawaii’s Rep. Neil Abercrombie put it. With nearly unanimous support from the 32 California Democrats and from most female members, Pelosi started off with a strong base. Her support also crossed ideological lines. She was nominated by John Murtha, a mostly hawkish and culturally conservative Vietnam veteran from the coal country of western Pennsylvania, with a following among old-line Democrats. Pelosi and Murtha formed an alliance similar to that between Phil Burton and the hard-bitten conservative Wayne Hays from the coal country of eastern Ohio a quarter-century earlier. In October 2001, Pelosi won by a convincing 118-95.
As whip, Pelosi moved quickly to assert herself, sometimes independently from then Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. She sparked a controversy when she contributed $10,000 to Rep. Lynn Rivers in a redistricting-forced Michigan primary against John Dingell, the powerful ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee who had been a strong supporter of Hoyer for whip. Normally, party leaders do not take sides in such primaries. Dingell won handily. Pelosi’s biggest conflict came in the fall of 2002, when she actively encouraged opponents of the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, which Gephardt had enthusiastically endorsed. Pelosi contended that supporters had not made the case for using force and that she had seen no evidence that Iraq “poses an imminent threat to our nation.” To the surprise of many, her efforts helped win 126 Democratic votes against the resolution, while only 81 backed Gephardt’s pro-invasion position. In retrospect, the split signaled a transition in the caucus. Once the disappointing 2002 election results were in and Gephardt said that he was stepping down, Pelosi had all but locked up the support of a majority of the caucus. Rep. Martin Frost of Texas announced his candidacy with warnings that the selection of Pelosi might create a “permanent minority party.” He withdrew from the contest a day later, conceding that he could not win. Harold Ford of Tennessee made a belated, quixotic bid designed to appeal to a combination of blacks and New Democrats, but Pelosi won 177-29.
As the Democratic leader in the House, she brought a burst of energy—and favorable press coverage—to a party that badly needed it. She showed hands-on management in selecting members for House committee vacancies and in developing a Democratic message highlighting the shortcomings of the Bush agenda. There were bruised feelings over some committee assignments, but even allies of Hoyer and Frost credited her with bringing a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm to party deliberations. As Republicans pressed their agenda, Pelosi declared that Democrats would take “a party position” in opposition to the Republican Medicare prescription-drug bill. But 16 Democrats voted for the final deal in November 2003, providing the critical margin for passage. She was largely silent about the renegades, many of whom were responding to local pressures. It was a painful lesson for Pelosi in the limited power of the minority leader in the House.
In 2004, Pelosi traveled the country raising money and boosting local candidates. If she became speaker, Pelosi pledged, she would reform the House to give a greater voice to all members and to assure fairness. She cited Democratic gains of open seats in Kentucky and South Dakota in special elections in early 2004 as proof that the political tide was turning their way. But the three-seat loss in the November election that year turned out to be yet another disappointment for House Democrats, though Pelosi noted correctly that they won a net gain apart from the effects of the 2003 Texas redistricting. She also cast some of the blame on the presidential campaign of John Kerry.
In early 2005, she firmly insisted that House Democrats would not sit down with Republicans on a plan for overhauling Social Security until they removed President Bush’s proposal to introduce private investment accounts into the program. Bush’s declining job approval ratings and the rising prospects of Democrats in the 2006 election helped Pelosi maintain party discipline. She saluted her longtime supporter Murtha for a November 2005 speech calling for a redeployment of troops out of Iraq, and she suggested without saying so that it would be the party’s position. “A vote on the war is an individual vote. It may be viewed as the position of the party; it is not. But I do know that a majority of House Democrats will support Mr. Murtha,” she said. Hoyer was adamantly opposed to withdrawing from Iraq, which he said would be a “disaster.”
In the summer of 2006, Hoyer, whatever his private feelings, declared that he had no intention of challenging Pelosi if once again Democrats failed to win a majority that fall. “If we lose, it will not be Nancy Pelosi’s fault. She’s done everything she possibly can. Win, lose or draw, she’s going to be our leader.” Just days later, Murtha announced he would run for majority leader if Democrats won, presumably against Hoyer, and said that Pelosi had neither encouraged nor discouraged him from saying so. For months, House Democrats struggled to come up with a platform to run on in 2006 and after many postponements, emerged with a “Six for ’06” program of increasing the minimum wage and enacting the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Pelosi campaigned tirelessly across the country and was rewarded with a Democratic majority on November 7.
“I understand my role as leader of the Democrats. And I very, very much respect that I will be the Speaker of the House, not of the Democrats,” Pelosi said when it was clear Democrats had won a majority. It was not an accurate forecast, perhaps, and a bit of boilerplate, yet it seemed to represent some sincere hope in her, as it had in her Republican and Democratic predecessors. She said the resignation of Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “a fresh start toward a new policy in Iraq, signaling a willingness on the part of the president to work with the Congress to devise a better way forward.” And she told Fox News that Iraq was “a problem to be solved, not a war to be won.” She made some missteps along the way, as new leaders often do. She vigorously supported Murtha for majority leader. Hoyer was supported by most of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, by most freshmen and by senior incoming committee chairmen like Dingell and Henry Waxman of California. Hoyer won 149-86, putting him in the No. 2 spot in the leadership, just after Pelosi. Whether they liked it or not, Pelosi and Hoyer were a team.
Pelosi finessed Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who wanted to serve as majority whip as a reward for his role in capturing the House, by persuading him to take the caucus chairmanship with new responsibilities. That paved the way for the whip position to go to the well-liked James Clyburn of South Carolina, an African-American who brought some racial diversity to the top ranks of the new leadership. Pelosi had long been at odds with California’s Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on Intelligence, who had voted for the Iraq resolution, and Pelosi was determined not to allow her to chair the committee. But the next Democrat in seniority, Alcee Hastings of Florida, although bright and charming, had been impeached and removed from his office as federal judge earlier in his career. After an embarrassing interval, the position went to Silvestre Reyes of Texas.
As she assumed the office that put her third in line for the presidency on Jan. 4, 2007, Pelosi said, “This is an historic moment, for Congress, and for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years. For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. To our daughters and granddaughters, the sky is the limit.” Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio echoed the sentiment, saying, “In a few moments, I’ll have the high privilege of handing the gavel of the House of Representatives to a woman for the first time in history. Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, this is a cause for celebration.”
There was some awkwardness in Pelosi’s first months as speaker. The 100 hours to pass the “Six for ‘06” program turned out to be 100 legislative hours, stretched over a couple of weeks. A request for a military plane to fly her to her district seemed an extravagant request, although the previous speaker, Republican Dennis Hastert, had had use of military planes to travel to his Illinois district, and Pelosi, not unreasonably, wanted an aircraft that could fly nonstop to San Francisco. Beneath the velvet glove, Pelosi continued to operate with an iron fist. One of her key issues is reducing carbon dioxide emissions to curb global warming. So she announced the creation of a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, to be headed by Energy and Commerce member Edward Markey of Massachusetts. When her old nemesis, Energy and Commerce Chairman Dingell, protested that he was being sidelined, Pelosi promised him that the special committee would have no legislative power.
She had some early impressive legislative successes. But there were also disappointments, especially when Democratic leaders in the closely divided Senate failed to rally the 60 votes needed to pass bills sent over from the House. The minimum wage was finally raised after many years, and an ethics reform bill that banned lobbyists’ gifts and required public disclosure of the identity of lawmakers sponsoring spending earmarks was enacted. Her greatest frustration was being unable to end military involvement in Iraq. The House passed measures with timetables for withdrawal, but they failed in the Senate. She disappointed antiwar liberals by bringing to the floor war-funding bills she opposed because, as she said, she had promised to protect the troops. In July 2007, she settled for a measure prohibiting permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. A couple months later, Gen. David Petraeus testified about the success of Bush’s troop “surge” strategy, and by then, the public pressure for withdrawal from Iraq diminished. Pelosi conceded that she had underestimated the Republicans’ willingness to stick with the president on the war, a position at odds with statements they had made to her privately and also at odds with the public mood in some GOP districts. In all, the 110th Congress (2008-09) voted $352 billion to fund the war, and in early 2009, Bush’s successor, Democratic President Barack Obama, decided to keep troops there another 19 months.
On other foreign policy issues, Pelosi attracted attention in February 2007 when she said that Bush lacked authority to invade Iran and in April 2007 when she and five other lawmakers met in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Speaking to reporters, Pelosi said she delivered a message to Assad that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert was ready to negotiate for peace. But Ohlmert issued a clarification saying that although Israel was interested in peace, Syria was still part of “the axis of evil.”
On domestic policy, Pelosi and her Democratic leadership ran a tight ship and were largely successful, at least in the House. She held back on the issue of addressing illegal immigration, about which many Democrats were skittish, and watched as the Senate failed to act. The Democrats’ bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was passed by both chambers, but Bush vetoed it. Pelosi then went along with abandoning the pay-go rule, which requires that tax cuts be paid for by spending cuts, in order to finance a fix of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which otherwise threatened to hit many middle-income earners. In April 2008, she prevailed when she ignored the law giving the president broad authority over trade and refused to bring the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to the floor. When gasoline hit $4 a gallon in 2008 and public opinion began to favor more offshore oil drilling, Pelosi refused to allow a roll call vote. “I’m trying to save the planet,” she said. Republicans screamed foul, and during the August recess, though Congress had technically gone home, they made speeches to curious tourists in the House chamber urging a vote. Pelosi ordered the lights turned out. But Democrats too were coming under pressure to act on gas prices, and on August 16, Pelosi agreed to allow a vote on a bill that gave the individual states a role in offshore-drilling decisions.
In September 2008, the House was confronted with a request by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for $700 billion to bail out financial firms on the brink of collapse in the weakening economy. Pelosi, with Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, decided to grant the request. But a few days later, it became clear that Democrats with serious political challengers were unwilling to vote for it. Pelosi announced she would bring Democrats along if 100 Republicans supported it as well. But when the bill came to a vote on September 29, it was defeated 225-208. Republicans blamed Pelosi for speaking harshly about Bush administration economic policies. The Senate changed some of the terms of the bill, and it passed on October 1. The House took up the Senate version and, with some vote switches prompted by Pelosi, passed it. Next on the agenda was the threatened bankruptcy of the big Detroit automakers. Pelosi resisted proposals to use $25 billion previously approved for developing fuel-efficient cars to keep the companies afloat. But she yielded on that point in December. However, the Senate could not pass the bill, and Bush approved loans for the auto companies out of the $700 billion intended to bail out the financial markets.
Pelosi remained neutral in the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, noting that as speaker she would preside over the party’s convention. But in March 2008, after a month of consecutive victories for Obama over rival Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, she said, “If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what’s happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic party”—a statement that obviously favored Obama.
Democrats gained 21 House seats in the election, and Pelosi entered the 111th Congress in 2009 as the leader of 257 Democrats (up from 236)—the biggest majority a speaker has enjoyed since Democrat Thomas Foley of Washington in 1993-94. In December, Pelosi told Emanuel, as he was preparing to leave the House to become Obama’s White House chief of staff, that she expected the administration to work through her and not make side deals with conservative Democratic factions, much less the Republicans. In January, Pelosi pushed through the House rules changes repealing the six-year term-limit on committee chairmen that Republicans imposed in 1995, and placing restrictions on motions to recommit, which Republicans had used frequently to delay or stop legislation. As the unions pressed for a card-check bill effectively abolishing the secret ballot in unionization elections, Pelosi let it be known that the Senate would have to act before she would ask Democrats in the House to cast what for some would be a politically dangerous vote. She said, “A country must be governed from the middle.” Still, in early 2009, she worked with Appropriations Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin to put forward an $819 billion economic-stimulus bill that not a single Republican voted for. Then, House Democrats bristled, but went along, when Senate Democrats cut aid to state governments and school-construction funds to get the three Republican votes needed to pass the bill.
Back home, Pelosi was re-elected with 80% or more of the vote from 1992 to 2006. In 2008, antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan ran against her as an independent. Pelosi refused to debate or acknowledge Sheehan, who wound up getting 16% of the vote, more than the Republican nominee’s 10%. Pelosi got 72%. It was her lowest percentage since the 1987 special election when she first won the seat. But the numbers are relevant only as a metric of the far left constituency of San Francisco and not as an indication of any political peril for Pelosi.