Nancy Pelosi puts her stamp on the House
Nancy Pelosi is a master tactician and the most powerful speaker in a half century. Behind her personal brand of power politics – and whether she will still be speaker after the midterm elections.
Nancy Pelosi's office is all cream and gold, marble mantels and gilt mirrors, with that classic sight line straight down the Mall past the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Instead of the smoke-filled rooms of House speakers past, the scent of lilies drifts out into the hall. The deep-red paint of Republican years in power was chipped off the walls of the corridor outside the office on Ms. Pelosi's watch, exposing an original 1901 mural – a classical maiden clasping a sheaf of wheat who, in Pompeian style, appears to be floating in air, with no visible means of support.Skip to next paragraph
There's an art to being Nancy Pelosi. Visitors walking into her office with a can of soda are offered a glass. There's no Big Desk in the room that says power. It's not needed. Guests are directed to a chair facing the Mall. Her chair, framed by the most privileged view in Washington, is also positioned so she can follow House floor action on four small TVs off to the side, without looking distracted. In what may be an unintended consequence, the horizontal, late afternoon light gives her face a halo glow, and leaves guests squinting.
What stuns many visitors to the office, including House Democrats, are the personal details that she knows about them. Pelosi exudes an ease and grace in one-on-one meetings that doesn't show up on television or before crowds. At times, she comes off like a (stylish) grandmother tending the lost boys. "I'll use my mother-of-five voice," or, "It's my grandmother-of-eight look," she'll say. Her daily chocolate-ice-cream fix is another convivial touch, reinforced by Ghirardelli chocolate squares just a reach away.
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But make no mistake: Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful woman in American politics and the most powerful House speaker since Sam Rayburn a half century ago. She is also one of the most partisan.
During her 3-1/2-year tenure as speaker, she has shepherded through major pieces of legislation – most notably the landmark and controversial health-care bill, for which she was responsible in the climactic hours more than is generally known – and done so in an era of partisan gridlock. To achieve that, she has shown uncommon skill in enforcing discipline in Democratic Party ranks at a time when members are more fractious and ideologically diverse than in decades.
Pelosi makes no pretext about working with Republicans, and they respond in kind. At once relentless and highly pragmatic, she has expanded the powers of the speaker's office into the day-to-day operations of the House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and restricted minority rights even beyond what the Republicans did in the 12 years they last controlled the House.
She has also reined in powerful committee chairmen in her own party. More so than previous speakers, she drafts major bills in the speaker's office, rather than going through a full committee process. Members cross her at their peril.
Her increasing power and the visibility of her job have made Pelosi one of the most controversial politicians in the country – and a popular target in the looming midterm elections. She is to Republicans what Sarah Palin is to Democrats, a cartoon figure whose every feature – hair, clothes, makeup, body parts – are fair game for satire and speculation.