November 15, 2002
Pelosi takes reins, vows even hand
History-making liberal says she'll work with GOP
By DANA WILKIE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – California Rep. Nancy Pelosi made American
history yesterday by becoming the first woman elected to lead a
party in Congress, then instantly took steps to quell fears that
her liberal views might prevent Democrats from recovering
from Election Day losses.
In her new job as House minority leader, the San Francisco
Democrat vowed to advance her party's agenda by working
closely with Republicans who soon will control all of Capitol Hill
and the White House. And to reach out to conservative
Democrats, she immediately recommended a southern "Blue
Dog" Democrat as her top assistant.
Pelosi vowed to "stand shoulder to shoulder with the president"
in the fight against terrorism and the battle to renew the nation's
economy. At the same time, the 62-year-old Pelosi made it clear
she will not buckl e on issues important to her party.
"We will try to find common ground," Pelosi said after she won
the leader's post with 177 votes from her Democratic colleagues
– far more than the 105 she needed for victory. "Where we
cannot find that common ground, we will stand our ground."
Pelosi's opponent for the job, Tenn. Rep. Harold Ford, won only
29 votes. A last-minute contestant, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio,
dropped out of the race.
Pelosi will be the most powerful woman in the history of
Congress – the first woman in 213 years of U.S. history to lead
either party in the House or Senate. Pelosi made sure to
highlight the point when a reporter interrupted her victory
speech to ask a question, and the congresswoman
good-naturedly told him she wasn't finished.
"I've been waiting over 200 years for this," said Pelosi, while
three of her five children and her husband, investor Paul Pelosi,
stood nearby. One of her daughters, Alexandra Pelosi, crowded
in with reporters and photographers to videotape her mother's
Pelosi was quick to pay tribute to her predecessor, Rep. Dick
Gephardt of Missouri, who resigned his leadership post after
Republicans in last week's election expanded their House
majority, took control of the Senate and prevailed in states key
to President Bush's re-election.
Pelosi said Gephardt led Democrats with "great intellect and
great dignity, and he has set a very high standard for us."
Said Gephardt: "She won this on her merit and her leadership
capability, and I am confident that with her leadership, we're
going to win back the House in 2004."
Pelosi's job will be an enormous challenge. Critics predict that
her views – she supports legalized abortion, gay rights and gun
controls while opposing tax cuts, welfare reform and war with
Iraq – will cause division among Democrats, create
congressional gridlock and alienate the centrist voters
Democrats need to win back Congress and the White House.
"We're hoping that she will work to be constructive as opposed to
just being an obstructionist," said John Feehery, spokesman for
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. But, he said, "it will take
more than new faces" for Democrats to recuperate from last
week's election, when Republicans picked up seven House seats
and snatched the Senate.
No doubt to placate the skeptics, Pelosi immediately named Rep.
John Spratt, D-S.C., as her top assistant yesterday. Spratt is
known as one of the House "Blue Dogs," fiscal conservatives from
swing districts, mostly in the South. Several "Blue Dogs"
endorsed Ford because they feared Pelosi might turn off
middle-of-the-road voters they need to win re-election.
Pelosi's supporters said their new leader is up to the job of
increasing the Democratic vote and Democratic seats in
Congress. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, said Pelosi has
the qualities critical to Democratic success – proven prowess at
raising money, the ability to articulate the party's message, the
political instincts to recruit good candidates and the
organizational skill to get Democrats to the polls.
One "Blue Dog," Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas, said he voted for
Pelosi yesterday because "it's obvious that her personal political
philosophy has nothing to do with the way she's going to lead
Pelosi's selection wrapped up votes by both parties on their
leadership teams for the 108th Congress that begins in January.
Republicans this week picked Hastert and Sen. Trent Lott to lead
their chambers, and both men are certain to push a conservative
agenda at odds with Pelosi's. But many observers expect Pelosi
to face off most frequently with the aggressive Tom DeLay,
R-Texas, who was voted majority leader and is considered by
some to be the true leader of House Republicans.
The House's 200-plus Democrats convened yesterday in a
conference room across from the Capitol, where they cast secret
ballots to choose their leadership to shape policies, try to unite
members on key votes and organize foot soldiers to raise money
and voter interest for the 2004 election.
Another California liberal from the Bay Area, Rep. Zoe Lofgren
of San Jose, lost her bid for the fourth-ranking job of vice chair,
which went to Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. Rep. H. Steny Hoyer,
D-Md., became minority whip and Rep. Robert Menendez,
D-N.J., became caucus chair. Pelosi was elected Democratic
whip last year. Second-in-command to Gephardt, she counted
and delivered the votes of party members.