D.C. is a wait-and-then-hurry-up kind of town. After more than a month away, Congress returns to a full plate. Legislators need to find a way — and quickly — to pass some kind of short-term budget and deal with the debt ceiling. That’s on top of a heated debate on immigration (and don’t even start on the farm bill). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spent the summer jet-setting around the country, raising money for Democratic candidates and incumbents, and participating in conference calls with members about what they’ve heard from their constituents. She readily admits that not everything is going the way she would have drawn it up herself, but she remains optimistic that Congress will be able to do more than the public gives it credit for. Edited excerpts of her interview with National Journal follow.
NJ Be honest: Are you kind of dreading heading back to Congress, just to go through the same debt-ceiling fights and budget battles?
PELOSI I never dread going back to Congress. There’s no greater privilege than representing the people of my district, on the floor of the Congress. So, no, not dread. I do wish it could be different. There’s no reason we can’t be coming to some agreements. It just keeps happening over and over again.
NJ For a journalist covering Congress, it’s starting to feel pretty repetitive. Does it feel that way on your end?
PELOSI Oh, it’s Groundhog Day Central. There’s no question about that. It’s not productive. It’s a waste of the taxpayers’ dollar. It’s a waste of our time. And it’s time that’s not working [for] the American people. [The Republicans’] agenda is nothing, and their timetable is never. But having said that, hopefully there are some among them that realize we have a responsibility to govern.
NJ Do you think it’s a case of 20 or so Republicans dominating the conversation from the right?
PELOSI I think it’s more than 20. Here’s what I have to say to my Republican friends out there: Take back your party. This isn’t the Grand Old Party that used to have such great leadership. The name “Republican” in some ways has been hijacked by obstructionists. They are nowhere on the spectrum of trying to get the job done, and they claim the name without bringing to it the greatness, the leadership of the past.
NJ Do you feel that a disjointed Republican Party gives you some leverage when it comes to their needing votes?
PELOSI I only have leverage if the other side is willing to govern. If they are willing to govern, we can find compromise. Not if they are just going to hold their ideological position and say, “We can be irresponsible because the Democrats are going to be responsible.”
NJ It’s become something of a pastime in D.C. for people to feel bad for Speaker John Boehner for having an unwieldy caucus. Do you feel for him?
PELOSI I don’t comment on their caucus, their leadership, or the rest of it. He’s the speaker of the House. I respect the job. The position that he holds is a very exalted one. I wish his members would respect his position as much as I do. But if the purpose of your call is for me to get in sniping at the Republicans on how they do their business, I will talk about how it affects the American people.
NJ Do you want to be speaker again?
PELOSI No, that’s not my thing. I did that.
NJ Democrats hoped that this August would be like 2009, where pressure could be put on lawmakers in town halls. Did the summer go according to plan?
PELOSI We were very strong in those town meetings in 2009. We saved the Affordable Care Act. If you recall, they made a fuss, but Democrats saved an initiative that we can now take pride in. It’s a different kind of a year this year. It’s a calmer debate, and the heat is really more on immigration.
NJ Before the recess, the common wisdom was that immigration reform may be dead for the year. What are your thoughts?
PELOSI The House will work its will. If the speaker wants to do it in pieces, that’s OK with us. But we’re not going away. There’s a confidence about the inevitability of it on our side that is up against the inconceivability of it to them. And we’re always trying to shorten the time between the inconceivability and the inevitable. And we think that’s happening. As Abraham Lincoln said, public sentiment is everything — and the public is speaking out on this one.
UPDATE: 1:10 p.m., Friday, August 30
Speaker Pelosi’s office blasted a press release this afternoon contesting the wording of NJ’s question and asking for a correction. In fact, the recorded audio file supports the edited transcript above. Here is the question and answer, from the tape:
National Journal: Do you wish for the chance for the speaker position again?
Pelosi: No, that’s not my thing. I did that.