3 January 2020
2 January 2020

She is, without a doubt, the most powerful woman in American politics.

Nancy Pelosi is a trailblazer who grew up in a political family… a devoted mother of five… a devout Catholic… a shrewd legislative strategist… and at the moment, Donald Trump’s biggest adversary.

At the age of 79 — an age when most Americans are long retired — she is presiding over the House of Representatives with a rare mix of grace and grit.

Her work is her fountain of youth.

And 2019 will long be remembered as her year.

Pelosi — the first woman in American history to lead a political party in the US Congress — regained the speakership in January, vowing to protect the health care reforms passed in 2010 before the Congress slipped back into Republican hands.   But soon it became clear that her charge was actually much larger— to hold a fractious party together and fulfill legislative promises in the age of Trump.

There were doubters in the beginning. Just one year ago, she faced an insurgency within her own caucus led by lawmakers who complained she was too old and too liberal to return as leader, that it was past time for a new generation to take over.

With impeccable political skill, Pelosi gradually whittled away her party opposition. And these days even those who ran against her admit they were wrong.

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan who challenged her for the party leadership twice, now says it’s a good thing she won.

When asked by reporters if he could have led the party through the challenges of 2019 like she has, Ryan answered “probably not… she’s literally in a class by herself.”

Pelosi learned her skills at her father’s knee. She was born Nancy D’Alesandro on March 26, 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland. A year earlier, her dad was elected to the US Congress. By the time she was seven, he was the city’s mayor.

She grew up learning the ins and outs of American politics — working on her father’s campaigns, attending her first Democratic Party National convention at the age of 12, and interning for a US Senator after college.

The political process always fascinated her. And even though her life in her 20’s and 30’s seemingly took a more traditional path — marriage, followed by five kids in six years and a move to San Fransisco— she always stayed involved as a volunteer for Democratic Party candidates and causes, and became known for her work behind-the-scenes.

By the time her youngest child was heading off to college in the late 1980s, Nancy Pelosi was the Democratic Party chair for the entire state of California. She never considered running for office herself but all that changed when a close friend and longtime political ally fell ill and had to give up her seat representing the San Fransisco area in Congress. Pelosi became her successor.

I met her a few years later in her Congressional office for a series I was reporting on “legacy lawmakers” — members of the House and Senate whose parents were also politicians.

Pelosi was down-to-earth and friendly — sharing stories about playing under her father’s desk on Capitol Hill when she was a toddler, and going from house to house in Baltimore on campaigns. There were family photos all over the place. Yes, I felt like I was in someone’s office. But it also felt like it was someone’s second home.

It’s clear the lessons learned from her father never left her… or those picked up while trying to raise five rowdy children. Both prepared her for the realities of modern day Washington.

She became the Democratic party leader in the House in 2003… made history as the first woman elected speaker in 2007… and in 2019 became the first person in more than 60 years to serve nonconsecutive terms in that post.

This time, with Donald Trump in the White House, the challenges came thick and fast: immigration, trade wars, gun violence to name a few. And then there were the cries for impeachment — a few at first, but growing louder as 2019 progressed.

Soon it became clear that Pelosi has never been better at her craft. She has sharpened her skills to take on Trump.

Remember the images: Pelosi standing up and rebuking Trump in the White House cabinet room… cooly walking out of a heated White House meeting with a triumphant smile and a pair of oversized sunglasses… and leaning over the president with a sarcastic clap during his State of the Union address, much like a mother sending a signal to an unruly child.

One of her own kids — daughter Christine Pelosi – once told an interviewer “If the five of us couldn’t rattle her, Donald Trump isn’t going to.”

And that seems to have the president a little rattled. He doesn’t like to go toe-to-toe with powerful women and has a habit of chastising them like a neighborhood bully.

The speaker has refused to get caught up in the name calling. When a reporter recently asked as she was ending a Capitol Hill news conferences if she hated the president, Pelosi turned on her heel and took him to task.

“I don’t hate anybody,” she said, “Not anybody in the world!”

When the reporter said he was merely quoting the words of a Republican member of the House, Pelosi went back to to the podium — the anger apparent on her face — and forcefully said:

“… as a Catholic, I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me.  I don’t hate anyone… I pray for the president all the time. So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that!”

She spoke out against hate and for civility. President Trump responded with a tweet saying the speaker had “a nervous fit.”

It seems Mr.  Trump has a problem coping with strong, defiant women. Just check his twitter feed and take a look of those pictures of him with his closest advisors —  all (with the exception of his daughter) are older white men.

I thought Amy Klobuchar — the US Senator from Minnesota — put it very well at a recent debate among the top contenders for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination.

Klobuchar argued that Americans should have faith in a woman’s ability to beat President Trump.

After all, she said, “Nancy Pelosi does it every day.”


Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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