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America's first Madam Speaker

Nancy Pelosi plans to drive a '100-hour' agenda through the House.

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While current Speaker Dennis Hastert characterizes his role as that of a coach, Pelosi often describes herself as presiding over a room in her "mother-of-five voice." (In fact, she is a mother of five and awaits the arrival of her sixth grandchild.) And there's no word more important in the Pelosi lexicon than "diversity."

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Bypassing more senior colleagues, Pelosi appointed Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D) of Ohio to be the first African-American woman to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Hilda Solis (D) of California to be the first Latina on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D) of California to be the first Latina to serve on the Judiciary Committee.

"She understands the importance of diversity ... of having all groups represented in the decisionmaking process," says Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who serves on the steering committee for the Democratic caucus.

In the next Congress, that committee will consider new rules for committee assignments within the caucus, including whether to downgrade the importance of seniority. "While seniority is important, other factors are as important in a committee assignment or chairmanship, such as geography, race, and political philosophy," he adds.

In a move that has already generated controversy, Pelosi has signaled that she is unlikely to name Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to the chairmanship, in favor of Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, next in line and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Respected in the intelligence community, Representative Harman often worked with the committee's GOP chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, even as Pelosi urged Democrats to hold ranks.

Caucus moderates are urging Pelosi to embrace the new freshman moderates.

Her "challenge is to wrap her arms around all aspects of the different philosophies that exist in this big Democratic tent, which is much larger as a result of this election," says Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida, a moderate Democrat. "I've tried to encourage ... Pelosi to put them in the room with her when she makes ... decisions."

Meanwhile, feminist activists hailed the historic moment of the first woman speaker ever. "This is the highest political leadership post ever held by a woman and puts Pelosi in the driver's seat as we begin to fulfill the will of the electorate and reshape the national agenda," says Ellen Malcolm, president of Emily's List, a group that supports abortion-rights candidates.

"Seeing this smart, tough, effective woman leading the Congress will help pave the way for the future of all women in politics," she added in a statement.

Pelosi basics

• Career: House Democratic leader, 2002-present; Democratic whip, 2001-2002; House of Representatives, 1987-present; Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, 1984-1986; chairwoman, California Democratic Party, 1983-1984.

• Birthplace: Baltimore, Md.

• Current Hometown: San Francisco.

• Education: Bachelor of arts, Trinity College, 1962.

• Family: Husband, Paul; five children; five grandchildren.

• Self-description: "An Italian Catholic mother of five, grandmother of five, going on six."

• Former G.O.P. Speaker Newt Gingrich's description: "A hyperpartisan obstructionist."

• Miscellaneous: Pelosi stuffs cotton in her ears when she takes her grandkids to rock concerts. And she's so petite, a policeman once lifted her out of her shoes during an evacuation of the Capitol.

• What to expect with Pelosi as Speaker: Democrats could be expected to let most of President Bush's tax cuts expire and to block any new effort to privatize parts of Social Security.

• Quote: "I think targeting me [during the election] – most people don't even know who I am – is an act of desperation on the part of the Republicans. We're going to keep the focus in a very optimistic way on our new direction."

Source: The Associated Press