Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Party, American Congress discussed on Fresh Air
This is fresh air. I'm Terry gross in this year's midterm elections. Democratic house leader Nancy Pelosi was the favourite target of Republicans when analysis found her name was invoked in attack ads that aired more than one hundred and thirty five thousand times Democrats won control of the house in spite of that. And now Pelosi is seeking to become speaker. Again, a post she held from two thousand six to two thousand ten but she's facing resistance within her own party from moderates who feel she's becoming a liability in swing districts, and from progressives who want leaders who will aggressively pursue their policy goals. Our guest journalist, Robert crapper says Pelosi has shown she has the political skills policy grasp and work ethic needed to win the support of and to manage the democratic congressional caucus in a cover story in this week's New York Times magazine, Draper looks at the battle among House Democrats over the. Speakership and considers whether Pelosi skills are suited to the challenges of the Trump era. Draper is a writer at large for the times magazine and the author of several books, including dead certain the presidency of George W Bush and do not ask what we do inside the house of representatives. He spoke with fresh Air's. Dave Davies will Robert Draper, welcome back to fresh air. You spent a fair amount of time with Nancy Pelosi for this piece. You know, she spent decades in politics fought a lot of battles men under a lot of media scrutiny in the midterms that we just saw I think she was the Republicans favorite target. I mean, they clearly their messaging and polling convinced them that attacking Nancy Pelosi was a way to beat the Democrats. How did she get in this position? Well, I think it starts with the fact that she is a woman who lives in San Francisco who was wealthy and who is a liberal all of this makes her the quintessence of California. Limousine liberalism. In other words, she is very very easy to caricature. Now, the fact that she is a woman of a certain age has caused these caricatures to be particularly unkind and with more than an aroma of sexism too. I think but nonetheless, it's it remains a fact that she is a progressive. She is wealthy, and therefore seemingly the very picture of the out of step democratic politician. So Republican groups and conservative organizations have taken that series of facts and run with them. With the result being one cascade of attack ads after the next. They really began. After the Democrats took back the house in two thousand six and were particularly evident in two thousand ten when I think sixty five million dollars with spent by conservative groups over that election cycle with ads that tended to make Nancy Pelosi, the evil twin of whoever was in particular congressional district, regardless of what they're voting record was and that pattern has continued throughout all the cycles and has become the sort of go to a Republican playbook in two thousand eighteen where the lot of uncertainty in the air. How is the electric sort of conflicting views about Donald Trump gonna play out going manifest the one thing that Republicans could count on her? So they believed at the time was as long as we keep talking about Nancy Pelosi. The voters will respond with disgust towards Pelosi and elect our folks it didn't quite turn out that way, however, at least as of this counting. There are the Democratic Party has picked up thirty eight house seats, right and going back to the four years that she spent a speaker from two thousand six to two thousand ten apart from the partisan attacks were there. Mainstream critiques of her either integrity or leadership that you know that. That had some legs. Well. Notable that Nancy Pelosi who's been in elective office. Since one thousand nine hundred eighty seven has lived a scandal free political life. So they don't have that on Pelosi substantively. However, her tenure speaker was very very active very episodic one those four years and were one in which she attempted to run the table with progressive legislation and some members of her own caucus were quite restive about that in particular, the energy Bill known as the cap and trade Bill of two thousand nine that a lot of the moderate blue dog. Democrats did not want to see out there at that time. You'll recall. Unemployment rate was rising hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost per month. And so the notion of talking about green energy when manufacturing jobs and other kinds of jobs were dwindling seem. Best way off message to a lot of Democrats and at worst, deeply wrong its policy. So yes, there has always been a bit of controversy about palsy owing to those four years at speaker when she determined that we the Democrats are here to do important things. And if it runs the risk of us returning to the minority. So let's talk about her career. What's her background? How did she get into politics? Sure. She is the daughter the youngest child of Tom Dallas Sandro who was an amazing political character in the history of Baltimore, Maryland, he was a congressman during the new deal era. And then following that the mayor of Baltimore, but that does not fully capture the hold that he had over Baltimore politics in particular, the Democratic Party. The Dallas Sandro household in the little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore was regularly trafficked with Democrats passing through from Washington d. DC or Maryland and was the Goto place in so Nancy Dallas Sandro grew up with that essentially in her DNA, her older brother, Tom junior later became mayor of Baltimore I himself, and so by the time that she moved to San Francisco to marry Paul Pelosi in nineteen sixty-nine. She was already not just a committed democrat, but one who understood machine politics, the art of getting backstage deals done and then upon moving to San Francisco quickly became an organizer a fundraiser and activist within California Democratic circles. Right. She didn't run for congress until nineteen eighty-seven when she was forty six up till that point she was essentially a party operative activists fundraiser, she was two things is she was all that. You've just described. She was also a stay at home mother who sort of engaged in politics. I would hesitate to say dabble because she really ultimately ran the California Democratic party organized the nineteen. Eight hundred four democratic convention, and then was the head of the Democratic Senate campaign committee, all while raising five kids, but you know, this is one thing that people I think forget about Pelosi or at any of overlook when they're busy demonizing her as this ultra liberal that in many ways disposition only she is a woman of her generation somewhat conservative committed Catholic, and as I observed whilst he's been in the house. She looks on with a certain bemusement and younger democratic women who raise kids while they were in office. She did the first career a stay at home mother before she pursued the second one, which is to run for congress in one thousand nine hundred seven and a special election. So she gets into congress. How did she deal with the sexism and gender bias of that institution? Well, she as the only daughter with several brothers Nancy Pelosi had no illusions about what it's like to be in a male dominated arena. It wasn't either. Then or now her proclivity to to complain back, then sexism was really institutionalized in congress when Pelosi came to Washington there only a couple of dozen women evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic Party in a body of four hundred thirty five they were a puny minority and those who were there were treated as Dame's as broads as pieces of meat, and we're not given the best committee assignments so Pelosi who has expression she's very fond of saying, no one gives you power. You have to take it from them proceeded to do exactly that she slowly made her way up the chain. After a couple of terms convinced party leadership to give her a committee slot on the house appropriations committee, and then also to establish national security benefit ace on the house intelligence committee, and it was really after she had. Managed to get an excel in those committee assignments that she began to catch your eye on leadership position in the party, right in the way, you get to be a a floor leader in the party and ascended towards the the leadership is in part by raising money for a lot of other candidates. She was really active and successful in doing that. That's right. I mean, I think that it's a two or three part of a strategy. The first is to understand who's in your caucus understand what they're about what their needs are. Secondly, once you've done that to raise money on their behalf. And then Thirdly to show that you can be legislative tactician that you can be a leader that you can establish a kind of party unity. So as to accomplish certain particular legislative goals and policy sat herself to to this task after frankly, seeing her male colleagues sort of screw things up in in in the two thousand election. They believed that they could retake the majority if they would just pick up about five seats Pelosi on her own managed to raise funds to bring four California congressional district's back into the democratic column, but that was not enough. Are they still remained in in the minority by one or two and so Pelosi decided, you know, I know how to win others in my party do not know how to win as well as I do and that was really along with her ability to raise funds for particular. For particular colleagues, the clarion call that put her in a position to run for to be basically, the first female whip in the history of the American Congress, you asked her at one point if she was ever encouraged to advance by party leaders. She had an interesting response. Yes. Our answer was are you kidding? They didn't even invite me to a meeting. She said, in fact, the only time I've ever been in the speaker's office was when I became speaker myself. And when I decided that I was going to run for a leadership position specifically for him. For whip basically said rally, it's not your turn. Why why would you do this? And and when among her applies was that it was important to have a woman at the table. They in term house leadership said to her. Well, why don't you make a list of the things that you women here in congress want done, and we'll just do them for you. And so it was it was that kind of dialogue that that. As Nancy Pelosi reminded me this did not take place in the eighteen hundreds. We're talking about the year two thousand one. And so there was still a retrograde aspect to the Democratic Party, which sees itself as the Progressive Party as recently as seventeen years ago. Robert Draper story about Nancy Pelosi appears in this week's New York Times magazine. We'll continue our conversation after short break. This is fresh air..