Calmes: Nancy Pelosi, the GOAT

Forget formalities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the GOAT.

Pelosi, the 55th person and first woman to serve as Speaker of the House and second in line for the presidency, might have an equal among other speakers in American history – perhaps mid-20th century Sam Rayburn or Henry Clay in the 19th – but none was better. In my book she is the greatest of all time.

As a former congressional reporter, I can personally speak to the transcripts of eight of those 55 speakers, four Democrats and four Republicans, going back to the esteemed Massachusetts Rep. Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill in the Reagan era. However, I’m hardly alone in counting Pelosi as the best of this group. Two Democratic presidents credit her for her legislative successes; Two Republican presidents have been repeatedly defeated by her.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

Even Republicans have admired Pelosi’s ability to lead—yes, lead—a diverse and unruly faction of Democrats during her eight years as Speaker and 12 years as minority leader, and pioneering legislation on health care, civil and human rights, environmental advances, economic opportunity and so on to achieve much more. Republicans have demonized her for years, raising untold millions and fueling the hatred that unfolded in the life-threatening attack on her husband of nearly 60 years, Paul Pelosi, last month. But only Republicans blinded by partisan hatred won’t admit how effective Pelosi was.

Most Republicans secretly envy the Democrats the ability to have a leader who doesn’t need the word in quotes. Over the course of nearly 30 years, her party has worn down flawed speaker after flawed speaker, each weakened by the caucus’ mutinous radicals. Two had to resign; two retired earlier than expected. Few (or anyone?) expect minority “leader” Kevin McCarthy, the Bakersfield congressman who is set to speak at the Republican takeover in January, to escape this unpleasant experience.

In contrast, Democrats’ affection and respect for Pelosi was evident Thursday as she stood in the chamber well — in her white suffragette suit and gold brooch, which is a miniature of the Speaker’s ceremonial mace — at first Time proclaimed time in 20 years she would not ask for her votes to become the Democratic leader. Some members dabbed their eyes. Afterwards, numerous guests stood ready for hugs and loving words, their faces testifying to how diverse the Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives had become in Pelosi’s time.

I didn’t anticipate Pelosi’s rise when she came into the House of Representatives in 1987. Her reputation as a successful former California Democratic Party leader and astonishing fundraiser preceded her; then she also became a master legislator. Still, I secretly despaired that Pelosi, or any of the relatively few Democratic women in the House of Representatives in the late ’80s and ’90s, would rally around one of them. This was required to push a woman onto the all-male leadership ladder.

It finally happened in 2001, and as Pelosi climbed a lower rung of that ladder, her rise was rapid: from House Democrat minority whip to minority leader in 2003, and then, after Democrats won the House and Senate majority in 2006, to her historic election as Speaker in January 2007.

No one climbs that high without getting bruised and inflicted. Still, Pelosi’s popularity in the House of Representatives and in her party is unquestionable; even those who don’t like her respect her. And that respect isn’t limited to other liberals. Pelosi’s true ideology is pragmatism; If anything, she more often angered the left and endeared herself to the moderates. She resisted pressure to impeach George W. Bush over the Iraq war, despite her own intense hostility, and resisted the impeachment of Donald Trump until his transgressions proved so serious that she chaired two unprecedented impeachments against a single president.

As a mother myself, I’ve come to believe that Pelosi’s pre-political experience as a mother of five was critical to her effectiveness: she was a good listener, calmer, and mediator within her home family.

But in recent years, some Democrats have grown impatient for a generational shift, and Pelosi has faced several leadership challenges. When the party regained a majority in the 2018 midterm elections, she was re-elected speaker, but only after promising she would limit her leadership to two more terms, until 2022.

Despite meeting that deadline, Pelosi, 82, likely could have won another term, given both Democrats’ relief at keeping their midterm losses to a minimum and their sympathy for their suffering at the assault on their husband. But that attack, and Pelosi’s apparent fear that Paul was seriously injured by an attacker who was said to be looking for her, likely sealed her decision to step down.

“Scripture teaches us that there is a time for everything, a time for every purpose under heaven…” Pelosi said in her address to the House. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Group, which I respect so much.”

She will be difficult to follow. In January, Pelosi will begin her 19th term as an ordinary representative for San Francisco — a backbench but perhaps the House’s most consulted backbench of all time.

I’m glad she’s staying here: the next Democratic leadership team will surely seek and need her advice. This GOAT should not be put out to pasture yet.

@jackiekcalmes

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-11-17/nancy-pelosi-speaker-democratic-leader Calmes: Nancy Pelosi, the GOAT

Alley Einstein

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