Who Is Nancy Pelosi?
Nancy Pelosi is a Democratic political leader. As of 2021, she has been the Speaker of the House of Representatives since 2019. She served as Speaker from 2007 to 2011 and has been a congressional representative since 1987. So far, Pelosi has been the only woman to hold the House’s highest leadership position.
Pelosi was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Thomas D’Alessandro Jr, was a politician, serving in the House of Representatives before becoming mayor of Baltimore for 12 years. She has six older brothers, one of whom became mayor of Baltimore. Her exposure to politics as a child helped shape her skills and interests later in life.
Why Is Nancy Pelosi Important?
Nancy Pelosi has been a Democratic leader for years. Her influence over her party, her political skills, and her connections with other political leaders give her a great deal of political power. Pelosi’s role as Speaker of the House gives her additional importance, as she holds great power over committee assignments, scheduling, and day-to-day debates.
What Does The Speaker of the House of Representatives Do?
The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. In order to speak in Congress, members must first seek recognition by the Speaker. The Speaker also has the opportunity to rule on all points of order, which are made when a member of Congress thinks that a violation of the rules is occurring or has occurred.
While these powers give the speaker a great deal of power over the day-to-day business of Congress, they pale over the power the Speaker wields with respect to scheduling and committee assignments.
The speaker appoints 9 of the 13 members of the Committee on Rules, ensuring that they have the ability to shape the conduct and debate of the House as a whole.
The speaker also appoints all members of select committees and conference committees.
What Are Select and Conference Committees?
Select committees are temporary committees created for a specific purpose. This purpose is often investigatory, rather than legislative, meaning that select committees usually report to other committees or the house as a whole in order to inform future decisions and legislation.
Select committees created by Pelosi’s congress include the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, and the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. As Speaker, she had the final say over all members appointed to all three committees.
Conference committees are committees created to help resolve the differences between legislation that has passed both the House and the Senate. These committees have members from both legislative bodies. Because Pelosi has the power to choose which members from the House make the committee, she has a great deal of influence in which competing sections make it to the final law.
Leader of the Majority Party
The Speaker of the House is elected by a majority vote within the House of Representatives. Traditionally, this means that the majority party simply selects its leader within the House as the Speaker. In addition to being Speaker, Pelosi is the current leader of the House Democratic Caucus. This means that she has a tremendous amount of sway over how Democrats within the House vote, debate, and even behave.
Nancy Pelosi’s History
Pelosi was born Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro in 1940. Her father was an Italian-American politician, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. She was the youngest of seven kids, the rest of whom were boys. Pelosi’s father became Mayor of Baltimore when she was seven, and she helped with his campaigns as she grew up.
Pelosi further developed her political skills with a BA in political science from Trinity College in Washington, DC. After she graduated, she interned for Daniel Brewster, a Democratic senator from Maryland. She was joined by Steny Hoyer, who currently serves Pelosi as House Majority Leader.
Introduction To Politics
Pelosi met her husband, Paul Francis Pelosi, while she was in college. They moved to San Fransisco in 1969. Pelosi met congressman Phillip Burton in San Fransisco and befriended him. She slowly worked her way into the Democratic party, first as a National Committee member, then as party chair for Northern California, then as party chair for the whole state. Pelosi served as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee finance chair in 1985 and 1986.
Congressman Burton died in 1983. His wife, Sara Burton, became his successor after a special election but was diagnosed with cancer after three terms. When Sara Burton retired from politics, she chose Pelosi as her successor, ensuring that Pelosi had the support of the Burtons’ full political network. After a very close primary challenge, Pelosi easily won the general election and became a congresswoman in 1987.
Pelosi’s San Fransisco district is a particularly Democratic section of the city of San Fransisco. She’s received no real challenges at reelection for the past 34 years, winning with an average of 80% of the vote.
The Rise To Power
Pelosi was elected as Minority Whip in 2001. In politics, a “whip” is someone who is responsible for maintaining party loyalty from members of a congressional body. This means that Pelosi was tasked with ensuring that Democratic congresspeople voted along party lines on important issues. Pelosi was the first woman in the US to become Minority Whip.
In 2002, then-Minority Leader Dick Gephardt resigned in order to run for President. Pelosi assumed control of the House Democrats. Again, Pelosi was the first woman in the US to become Minority Leader.
Democrats took control of the house in the 2006 elections, giving them the ability to elect a new Speaker of the House. As the previous Minority Leader, tradition suggested that Pelosi would become Speaker. She was unanimously chosen by Democrats and then easily won the House vote against John Boehner.
Politics As Speaker
In 2006, Pelosi famously made a promise that the Democratic House would push most of its agenda through in the first hundred hours. Within the first 87 legislative hours of her Speakership, she made good on that promise, passing every single part of her plan with one exception, related to the 9/11 commission’s recommendations regarding term limits in Congressional committees.
Speaker Pelosi’s agenda included lobbying reform, raising the federal minimum wage, and ending tax subsidies for big oil companies. All of these bills passed the Senate and were signed into law. Other bills, including funding for stem cell research, direct negotiation for Medicare medication, and reducing interest rates on student loans, failed to leave Senate committees.
The Iraq War occurred at the insistence of the Bush administration, who claimed that the Iraqi military possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” As the war unfolded, however, it became clear that that claim was a stretch at best and an outright lie at worst. Many Democrats sought to impeach President Bush over his role in misleading the American people.
Additionally, in the post-9/11 era, the Bush administration began expanding the government’s surveillance powers against private citizens. Some Democrats felt that the warrantless wiretaps authorized and conducted by his administration were an excessive breach of Americans’ rights, causing them to call for impeachment.
As Speaker, Pelosi blocked these efforts entirely in May 2006. She made statements that these misdeeds would be vigorously investigated, no formal impeachment proceedings would take place. Pelosi left some room for unexpected findings to change her mind later, but it was clear that she had no interest in a lengthy and potentially embarrassing impeachment procedure immediately before a midterm election.
In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States. One of his administration’s goals was to pass major healthcare reform, now known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. The loss of a single senate seat in January 2010 cost Democrats their two-thirds majority in the Senate, causing Obama to have serious doubts about his ability to pass reforms as a single piece of legislature.
He began to scale back his plans and started to break up the ACA into bite-sized chunks that could be individually negotiated and passed through both houses more easily.
Pelosi, however, ridiculed this idea. She referred to the broken up ACA as “kiddie care” and persuaded Obama that the Democrats’ majorities were a rapidly closing window. Reform had to be passed immediately and be big. Pelosi got the Democrats in Congress on board and launched a two-month marathon session to create the bill, squeaking through the house 219-212. Obama personally credited Pelosi’s influence before signing the ACA into law.
Controversial Popularity and Loss Of Majority
While Pelosi enjoyed a very safe congressional seat, she was the subject of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Moderate Democrats complained that she was too liberal, while liberal Democrats complained that she was too centrist. Only a minority of Democratic representatives chose to take action against Pelosi based on these complaints, causing her to remain as Speaker until the Democrats lost the House in 2011.
Despite complaints that she’s too much of a centrist, Pelosi founded the House Progressive Caucus and maintained an active membership prior to her election as minority leader in 2003.
Democrats lost a full 63 seats in the midterm election of 2010, causing their majority to vanish. Pelosi chose to remain in control of the House Democratic Caucus by running for Minority Leader. While she experienced mild opposition, Pelosi won this vote 150 – 43.
Pelosi’s critics have attempted to tie her to questionable stock trades made by her or her husband a number of times. One occurrence of this happened in 2011, less than a year after she was elected as Minority Leader. Pelosi reportedly purchased a number of Visa stocks while the House was working on a piece of legislation that would potentially increase the company’s profits. Speaker Pelosi denied any wrongdoing and went as far as to pass legislation meant to prevent insider trading by members of Congress.
Despite this legislation, this would not be the last time that Speaker Pelosi and her husband were accused of insider trading. In June 2021, Pelosi’s husband exercised a call option on Google stock, but not Amazon, Apple, or Facebook. While this option was being used, the Judiciary Committee was voting on antitrust legislation that would have an adverse effect on these companies. Paul Pelosi reported having purchased call options on several of the other companies but did not report exercising them.
Speaker Pelosi vigorously denied any knowledge of these transactions and claimed that her husband made these trades blind. Critics continue to point to her husband’s incredibly accurate trading history and accuse the Pelosis of insider trading.
Democratic Decline and Challenges To Power
After 2011, Republican majorities in the House and Senate made it difficult for Pelosi and her caucus to achieve their legislative agenda for many years.
In 2017, Democrats began to openly question Pelosi’s leadership. They had suffered losses in four consecutive special elections, cementing their minority in the House. Despite an accusatory closed-door meeting, no overt changes were made to Democratic leadership.
Pelosi continued to make symbolic gestures as Minority Leader. She challenged certain actions of the Trump administration, attempted to fight against certain types of immigration reform, and strove to reduce sexual harassment in the workplace. Without a majority, however, her efforts were largely toothless in the face of the unified Republican caucus.
A Hostile Speaker
In 2018, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. Pelosi again became Speaker, although political analysts at the time suggested this was more due to a lack of any real challengers. While the aging Pelosi had decades of personal political experience, she had not taken the time to begin training a potential successor.
Pelosi displayed open hostility to the Trump administration. She got into a bitter fight over the federal budget in 2018 when Trump attempted to use the budget as ammunition for negotiations regarding the construction of a border wall. Pelosi denied Trump the privilege of addressing Congress in the House chambers during the resulting shutdown.
Fights over Trump’s speeches would continue. Pelosi allowed Trump to speak in the House’s chambers in 2020, but she tore up a paper copy of his speech after it concluded.
In 2019, Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The inquiry ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of justice. After evidence was presented in the House, the Senate voted to acquit trump 53-47, largely along party lines.
Trump was again impeached after the events of January 6th, 2021, when a group of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol. Pelosi publicly demanded that Vice President Mike Pence use his powers under the 25th Amendment to declare Trump an unfit president. If he did not, she promised she would proceed with impeachment. After the Vice President declined to invoke the 25th Amendment, the House drew up articles of impeachment.
Trump’s second impeachment was notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that he was no longer the president while the proceedings were taking place. He was ultimately acquitted after receiving 57 “guilty” votes, a simple majority but not the two-thirds required to convict.
COVID and Lockdown
Despite losing the presidency, Republicans continued to control about half of the Senate in 2021. This made it difficult for Pelosi to perform another 100-hour blitz. Instead, her legislative efforts were met with staunch opposition at every turn.
In late 2020, Pelosi was photographed leaving a hair salon in her home city of San Fransisco. At the time, indoor service in hair saloons was prohibited by COVID-related lockdown regulations. Pelosi was accused of being a hypocrite and lambasted on social media over the pictures.
The Most Powerful Speaker In A Quarter Century
Nancy Pelosi’s political experience and legislative talent have allowed her to make bold moves in the House of Representatives. While modern scholars stop well short of comparing her to Henry Clay, she’s still commonly regarded as the most powerful and influential Speaker of the last two or three decades.
Pelosi has proven her ability to make waves in all types of situations, regardless of whether she has the cooperation of the executive branch and the Senate. House Democrats directly credit her leadership with many of their legislative successes, including the Affordable Care Act and the 100-hour push of 2006.
Despite her expertise, Pelosi is growing older. She’s made public statements that she will not continue as Speaker past 2022. It’s not clear who, if anyone, she intends to support as her successor. No matter who she chooses, it’s likely that House Democrats will feel the loss of her legislative acumen when she steps down.