Nancy Pelosi’s Essential Leadership


By Joe Campbell
November 9th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]At this point, whatever you think of Nancy Pelosi’s policies – or her personality – you have to admit this: she’s ruthlessly pragmatic, knows how to wield her power effectively, has excellent political instincts, and is one of the more effective Speakers of the House in recent memory. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Pelosi described her legislative philosophy:

“You get the votes,” she said, balling one hand into a fist, “and you take the vote,” and she punched her other hand. “Because you never know what can happen.”

Pelosi’s 11th hour compromise Saturday night – accepting the Stupak amendment – proved she was willing to do what it took to get the health care “bill that no one loved but almost everyone still believed in” passed. The Stupak amendment brought two key constituencies on board: the Catholic bishops and pro-life Democrats. As Minority Leader Boehner prepared to use legislative maneuvers to scuttle the bill on the grounds it would make everyone in the health insurance exchange pay “an abortion premium” – Pelosi’s acceptance of the Stupak amendment lead Cardinal Francis George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to call Boehner to make sure “the GOP didn’t play any games,” blocking health care reform on the pretense of a pro-life position. At the same time, the Stupak amendment also allowed the bill’s sole Republican supporter to sign on, Congressman Anh Cao. The fallout among the pro-choice Democrats has been severe – but Pelosi must assume it’s manageable. Given the fact that this provision will likely be stripped from the final version of the bill, it seems a small price to pay to pass this historic legislation.

At the same time, Klein points out that Pelosi’s decision to push cap and trade legislation through months ago looks prescient today:

I’m not saying that cap and trade has great odds this year, but whatever chance it does have is a function of Pelosi passing it back in June. She got the votes, and she took the vote.

The House has now passed two bills tackling two major issues that have been growing worse for the past two decades but Washington has been unable to address due to partisan gridlock. Obama deserves much of the credit. But Nancy Pelosi has proven to be a formidable pol – and it is her leadership most of all that has gotten this legislation as far as it has.

Now, all eyes turn to the Senate – for both health care and cap and trade. In the coming months we will find out whether or not Washington is able to deal with either of these issues, or to once again put them off, drawing closer to the moment that is too late. But in the meantime, Nancy Pelosi has done her job.

[Image by Public Citizen licensed under Creative Commons.]