Four years after Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to lead the House in 2007, she lost the speaker’s gavel when Republicans swept into control of the chamber. Still, she remains the most powerful U.S. female elected official today—if not arguably in history. But a hot topic in Washington this summer is whether the 72-year-old California grandmother is ready to call it quits. Pelosi gives no indication publicly that she wants to leave Congress soon. A longtime ally in the House, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., says he doesn’t know her plans but that regardless, “hers is already an amazing legacy.”
The reason why many Democrats so admire Pelosi and why Republicans so demonize her—and why even some within her party are torn—was on display the day the Supreme Court largely upheld the health care law. Asked whether the ruling could harm Democrats in this year’s elections by reopening debate over the controversial legislation, she told a reporter: “Politics be damned, this is about what we came [here] to do!” Pelosi, of course, was the driving force behind the passage of the health law in 2010 as well as other controversial measures. However, emphasizing that fact and framing Pelosi as the face of her party was a big part of the Republicans’ winning formula in regaining the House majority later that year.
Yet, Pelosi’s party chose her to head it again as minority leader. And if she carries some political baggage, Miller said, it’s because Pelosi fights for things she believes in, and Republicans “spent $60 million demonizing her for it.” For all of the criticism that she is too polarizing or too much of a lightning rod, Pelosi has already raised more than $54.4 million this election cycle for her party.
By Billy House
Heather Podesta knew what she was getting herself into when she married powerhouse Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta in 2003. If she decided to take his name, Tony told her, she should understand that some people would despise her without knowing her. Others would be fiercely loyal without ever having met her. “That is so much cooler than being Heather Miller,” she remembers thinking at the time. “I’m ready to be a Podesta.”
Her marriage may have officially inducted her into Washington’s inner power circles—Tony is among the best-known lobbyists on K Street, while his brother, John Podesta, was chief of staff to President Clinton and founded the Center for American Progress—but over the past decade, Heather Podesta has also become a force to be reckoned with.
A University of Virginia-educated lawyer and a former congressional aide, Podesta started her own lobby shop, Heather Podesta + Partners, in 2007. What was once a two-person office has expanded to 11 and boasts a client list that includes Eli Lilly, Cigna, Home Depot, Marathon Oil, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and other giants. In 2010, the firm had its best year, raking in $7.3 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Podesta, 42, is also a formidable Democratic bundler, raising tens of thousands of dollars for candidates around the country.
Many may have written her off as “Tony’s wife” in the past, Heather Podesta says, but with her firm continuing to flex its muscles, that isn’t much of a problem anymore. Her job, as she sees it, is to explain Democrats to businesses and business to Democrats—no easy task in Washington’s hyper-partisan political climate.
Around town, she’s known as diligent and informed, but never at the expense of a bit of personal flair. In business, that means there are no titles at Heather Podesta + Partners—it’s more egalitarian that way. You might also see her bobbing around Capitol Hill attired in bold colors and flamboyant patterns. “I really enjoy being a woman, and it’s not anything that I shy away from and try to hide in a black pantsuit,” Podesta says. “And when you do that, you can play, you can be creative, but you also stick out in a hearing.”
By Naureen Khan