Funding for To the Contrary provided by The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation the Park Foundation and the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation The Congress of the United States, very male dominated place.
When I became speaker, I didn't break a glass ceiling.
I broke the marble ceiling.
(MUSIC) Hello, I'm Bonnie Erbe' Welcome to To the Contrary, a weekly discussion of news and social trends from diverse perspectives.
This week, the only female speaker of the US House of Representatives.
She's not in her party's leadership, but she is, by all accounts, the most powerful woman in American politics.
Pelosi sat down with me in her new meeting room, especially set up for her as Speaker Emeritus.
Madam Speaker, welcome and thank you so much for being here.
My pleasure always.
Are you definitely leaving at the end of your current term?
While I'm here, God willing, as long as I decide to be here, I'm not making any announcements today about what that will be, but I'll certainly be the length of this term.
Looking ahead to whenever you will leave.
What do you want to be thought of in the future?
I mean, you're an incredible advocate for women, girls and children, most especially.
What do you want, generations of students studying American history to think about when they think of Speaker Pelosi?
Well, not so fast as the legacy part.
I'm still here, but as speaker, I'm not.
And I feel very proud of my work as speaker because we tried to make it something that was very respectful of the views of all of our members because those were the views of their constituents.
And we are the House of Representatives.
Our job title and our job name representative is one in the same.
And how did that translate into legislation that you want to be remembered for?
Well, my most important legacy, of course, will be the Affordable Care Act, and that was something that only would happen because of the courage of members, because it was a hard votes for some people in their districts.
And it but it was absolutely necessary and we had a president, President Obama, who had this as a vision, as did we.
But now we had a president who was in the fray with us.
The bill is passed.
At least 20 million people immediately had access to health quality, affordable health care.
150 million families would, even if they had health insurance privately, already had better benefits at lower cost for their families.
No preexisting medical condition, no being a woman, being a preexisting condition, kids on the policy until 26.
It just made things better for people.
So there's absolutely no question that that would be the highlight of my legacy in Congress.
Madam Speaker, you are the head or were the head of a very diverse party.
It's difficult to get them all to go in the same direction.
And as Will Rogers once said, I'm not a member of any organized political party.
I'm a Democrat.
So how did you do it?
The thing is, is that we are Democrats, and that means we respect many points of view.
We are a big tent.
I would not want to be the leader of a party that was a lockstep drumbeat party.
We are a bandwagon when we come to our consensus and we roll out to make a difference in the lives of the American people.
But I don't take credit for unifying them.
Our values unify us.
Our commitment to America's working families is what brings Democrats together.
But you didn't have to have conversations with members who said, I just can't go along with you on this.
And then you turned them around.
How did you do it?
Well, no, it wasn't a question of it was a question of what their understanding of the legislation was or what our possibilities of, making it clear that it was not as menacing as they may have thought.
So it's about listening, respecting their views, and then building consensus.
But it's not always unanimous.
Were there penalties for the people?
Of course not.
I mean, that's how the men I was up here covering Tip O'Neill's, it's sort of closer to the beginning of your career.
And there were people who would not get funding for the next election or.
No that isn't, look Bonnie, Tomorrow is another day.
This is one vote.
The next day is another, a set of initiatives that we're advancing.
And that's not how we ever operated.
It was nothing ever punitive.
We never lost a vote.
So it wasn't as if our system didn't work.
It did work.
You were up here at a time when Democrats and Republicans were friendlier.
How did it change?
Well, when I first came to Congress, we were in the majority and we had great bipartisanship.
It's like a kaleidoscope.
On some issues, we'd be more attuned.
In other issues less.
Sometimes it would be regional, sometimes it would be just philosophical.
But there was always a possibility that there would be a strong bipartisan agreement somewhere along the way.
I would say that probably in the time of Newt Gingrich is when it changed.
But not to bemoan that.
The fact is we always strive for bipartisanship, transparency, so the public knows what is at stake in any decision and accountability to the public.
Was that a way to sometimes get Republicans to go along with you?
Most successful we've had with Republicans going along with this when they knew we were going to be successful with or without them.
(Laughter) For example, the CHIPS Act recently they put out the word No Republican can vote for the CHIPS Act.
So I said, Fine, we don't need you.
And then they voted for it.
Once they saw we had the 218.
Pelosi also proudly displays the winning vote tally for the American Rescue Act, also called the COVID 19 stimulus package a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill.
I just want to tell you a funny story.
I know a woman who is a staffer on the Republican side in the House, and she said when there was all the problems with Marjorie Taylor Greene and and the speaker couldn't get the votes together for him to get elected.
And somebody said, if Nancy Pelosi were still speaker, this would never have happened.
How does that make you feel?
What I want now is for the next generation of leadership to do even better than I did.
I don't can't answer for what the Republicans do, but I'm very proud of our new leadership.
Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clarke, Pete Aguilera from California, Ted Lieu, also from California.
I'm very proud of them and my level of success (inaudible) What I take pride in is what we've done.
But I'll be even prouder if they could do better.
And what do you want to see?
Especially for women and girls in the future?
When do you want to see another woman speaker?
When do you want to see a woman president?
Bonnie I never thought we would have a woman speaker before we had a woman president.
I thought the American people were far ahead of us in terms of their support for a woman to be president of the United States.
The Congress of the United States, very male dominated place.
When I became speaker, I didn't break a glass ceiling.
I broke the marble ceiling.
And it would not have happened if we hadn't had many more women in Congress, a body that our male members didn't have the courage to support, a legacy of fairness.
Well, but how did you do that?
What kind of conversations did you have to have with people to get the votes you needed.
I had a winning majority That's a very compelling argument.
We won the majority.
I had a plan.
I know how to do elections.
I was chair of the party in California and we won the majority and I became speaker.
But it's that's a that's a challenging path for women when what I want women to take away from this and I'm overwhelmed by beautiful testimonials from women and girls about what confidence it gives them.
And that's for me, is the biggest gift of all, because I want women to have confidence that they can do this.
A How urgent it is that they do.
We believe that there's nothing more wholesome for politics and government, almost anything than the increased participation in leadership of women.
So I just keep saying to women, You are the only person in the history of the world like you.
You have something very unique and sincere to offer.
Know your power in this.
And when you see women like Marjorie Taylor Greene supporting the people who rioted, rioted here, five deaths in total, breaking historic pieces of furniture, statues in the U.S. Capitol.
What do you think?
Well, I'd rather not go into about the Republicans.
What I do think is that people like that are more dangerous to the American people than anything they may say here in terms of the policies they may advocate.
But I again, it's up to the Republicans to monitor the behavior of their members.
I don't pay too much attention to it except to say this is dangerous.
This is not patriotic.
So do you see us going back to a time when there will be like I used to watch Tip O'Neill and Bob Michael, the minority leader, argue vociferously on the floor about a bill.
And of course, Tip would always win because it was in that 40 year period where the Democrats controlled Congress and then they'd slap each other on the back and go play golf at the Congressional Country Club.
Will we get back there?
I think we have a responsibility to seek bipartisanship.
I don't know that we have to play golf or have dinner together, but I do think that we should be able to come to our own agreements.
I don't care about having dinner with any of them.
But I do think that we should be able to prepare something for the American people.
But I'm a I guess I meant forget about dinner, but just being close enough that you can so that you can go to the same cocktail party and or to bump into somebody in a museum and say hello.
Well, we I mean, I think that there are still some remaining levels of friendship in the Congress, not as much as before.
But again, what's important is what we do for the people in terms of legislation.
It is nice to have a rapport, but its purpose is what our purpose here is for the people.
What do you think about Congress's effect on that?
And of course, mainly the Senate, but on the Supreme Court and the the Dobbs decision.
You are such a promoter of women's rights.
(Pelosi) yes You are such a supporter of abortion rights.
How do you feel?
As a mother of five children in six years, in one week?
I appreciate the impact this decision would have in women's lives.
I think that it is an example, the court's decision as an example of narrowing freedom in our country.
Since our beginning, the wisdom of our founders to start this country, this great experiment, unlike anything that ever happened in the history of the world.
But still, our founding documents, thank God they made them amendable so that we can ever expand freedom, whether for African, for black Americans at the time of the them, for women, for others, as we go forward.
And this is the first time that freedom has narrowed because of the action of the Supreme Court.
I think that it's wrong.
I think it's undemocratic and I think it's unfair and I think it must be overturned.
We must pass legislation to they don't like me to say codify what enshrine in the law a woman's right to choose.
Will that happen because you tried?
Well, we passed in the house again and again.
It's a question of 60 votes in the Senate, and they're just going to have to make up their own mind about whether they stick with that 60 vote number.
But public sentiment is everything.
The American people want this to happen.
It will happen.
And that Lincoln said, public sentiment has everything with it.
You can accomplish almost anything without it, practically nothing.
And in this last election, for example, people said, oh, you're talking about the past.
Roe v Wade is in the rearview mirror.
The Dobbs decision.
No, it wasn't.
We knew it wasn't.
It means a lot to America's working families, not just women, but the whole family.
It's a kitchen table issue in terms of personal decisions that have an economic impact on people's lives, as well as, of course, the important decision to bring a child into the world.
I noticed that you have a picture of the House floor behind me up here.
And it was when your father was in Congress.
And we talked more than a decade ago.
And I asked you, what would your dad say if he could see you today?
I think he'd cry.
Is that still the same answer?
But the texture is of him in the Congress of the United States.
When Winston Churchill came and spoke the day after Christmas 1941, and asked for US assistance in fighting the Nazis, and that was what that picture was.
That's why they have that picture, and that's why I am proud to display it.
And I was very proud to be able to bring to the joint session of Congress President Zelensky, when he asked for our help to protect freedom, to preserve democracy, to push out the Russians for their unlawful invasion of his country.
But tell me again about your dad.
You're one of only four or five speakers who ever lost the speakership & -Pelosi-I don't know what brought it back.
I don't know.
Whether you've been even prouder.
I don't know.
You know, I said when I was elected speaker, the chair of our caucus who conducted the election.
Rahm Emanuel, now the ambassador to Japan.
When I went up to the podium to accept the gavel, he said, Oh, your parents would be so proud.
And I said, Oh, it never occurred to me.
They didn't raise me to be speaker.
They raised me to be holy.
That's what they would be proud of.
But yeah, that they would they would appreciate this.
Yes, but that wasn't I didn't think my value to my parents rested on my political success, let's put it that way.
But he was a role model for you, right?
I mean, he was.
My mother was, too, in terms of having our faith.
We were I was born in an Italian-American neighborhood, proud of devoutly Catholic, proud of our Italian heritage, fiercely patriotic Americans and staunchly Democratic.
So but our democratic values were part of our faith and I believe in the separation of church and state.
But nonetheless, our value system sprang from our faith.
And I see there's a trophy over there in Italian that is dated 2016.
What's that for?
That was given to me by a parliamentarians in Italy a few years ago.
For my uh, for my work.
You don't have to be Italian to get that.
The person who got it before me was not Italian-American, but but American.
A labor leader.
So our shared values about America's working, working families that I've been recognized a lot of.
I spoke to the parliament in Ghana.
I spoke to the Doyle in Ireland, to their parliament as well, had been received at the highest levels in so many countries.
I've been to 87 countries and my service here, and many of them since I was speaker or leader.
But it's really a reflection of their appreciation for the United States of America.
I don't take it personally.
I think it's about our great country and what we have meant to the world, which has been, shall we say, a few years ago was in doubt in some people's mind.
But now with Joe Biden, America is back and people recognize that.
So proud of what he has done in terms of the Ukraine.
Does it worry you that as long as you bring up Ukraine, China and Russia getting so close and I mean, if it came to a war with China siding with Russia against us and and the NATO, the NATO allies, would we win?
Well, we don't have any choice but to win.
But let's hope that that it doesn't come to that.
I think the world has to make it clear to Putin that the use of a nuclear weapon for any purpose, either tactical or strategically, is out of the question.
I don't know that the Chinese are necessarily signing up for something like that.
Do you worry about nuclear war?
I always have.
When I first came to Congress early on in my years, I went on to the Intelligence Committee.
I've had 30 years of intelligence being a member, being the top Democrat on the committee, and ex-officio as speaker and leader.
And one of my motivations I had two motivations.
One was to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons.
And secondly, was to protect our civil liberties as we were protecting the American people's safety.
When you go abroad and as a woman, but as an incredibly powerful woman, do they treat you any differently?
Do the men overseas treat you differently from the way American men do?
No, they used to.
They used to.
I mean, I remember when I went to an early meeting in an Arab country and they said, no women are coming in to see the king.
And we're like, and our group said then none of us is coming to see the king.
And then we all went to see the king.
But no, they don't.
Well, once you have the gavel, it's it's a whole different story.
No, I don't see that, actually.
In many countries, there are so many women who are prime ministers or presidents or in some countries both and speakers of the House and the rest, that it's we're the ones who are behind in terms of having a woman president.
Getting back to your earlier question about that, and I think it will be inevitable and I think it will be soon.
And I think we will have a woman and another woman speaker before too long.
When I came here, there were 23 women, 12 Democrats, 11 Republicans.
I teamed up with Barbara Boxer, who would become a senator.
But we said, this can't stand, you know.
So now we have about 90 Democratic women.
They have about 30, 35.
Maybe they've grown lately.
And we want more , we want more.
Is it easier dealing with Republican women than men?
So why would you want more Republican women?
Well, we just want more women at the table, whatever their point of view and whoever they represent, their constituents.
It used to be when before that, many more of the women were pro-choice on the Republican side.
But not anymore now.
But we do have some things that we work on, trafficking, some issues that we do work together in a bipartisan way with the women, with the women members and there's a cordiality to it and friendship to it.
We really need to have a return of a great Republican Party.
That's what our country needs, a great Democratic Party, but a great Republican Party.
In that era, there were some pro-choice segments of the party and the environment was not as partisan an issue as it is now.
Many of the people in our community were Republicans who were environmentalist.
But apart from those issues, just in terms of what they believe the role of government is and how they define themselves, something quite different than what they fell into a cult to a thug, in my view, in the presidency of the former president of the United States.
Do you remember at at his State of the Union ripping up his speech?
Yeah, of course I do.
I didn't have any intention of doing that.
I went in and had absolutely no intention of doing that.
But what I did was when he was speaking, I was thinking, boy, he told that's a complete lie.
So I tore on that page and then the next that's a complete lie.
And every page was a complete lie.
It was a manifesto of misrepresentations and a disgraceful display, disrespectful of the House of Representatives, in my view, giving a medal of freedom to whoever that guy whose name is was anti LGBTQ.
And although that's not his was in his house, they do that at the White House if you want.
So by that time he was finished, I had a torn piece on every page, so I thought, well, and it's a hard decision parchment, so you can't just tear it.
You have to tear it and tear and tear it.
And then you created a meme.
That it was unintentional.
I thought I was ... because he said, Let's work together.
And everybody thought this is a joke.
But I was saying, now you're talking.
But people took that in a way that it was not intended.
But wherever I travel throughout the world, people like this, they like this.
They like this.
And I say, wait a minute, I passed the Affordable Care Act.
We did this.
We did that for the climate, for the environment, to save the planet.
All this and all you want to talk about is how I fought him.
Before I came here.
I was with a global meeting and people were saying, thank you for saving your democracy for us and of all, accept any compliment on behalf of the House Democrats.
And last question.
Why isn't saving democracy your legacy?
The democracy issue is universal, but it isn't necessarily shared in a bipartisan way here, as you saw on January six, as you saw in some of the statements of the previous president of the United States.
And that's why when we had the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR, because AIDS has been a big issue for me.
I spoke on the program honoring President Bush for putting that President George W Bush for putting that forward, and Laura Bush for carrying on it, the two of them carrying on all of that, where we can find our common ground.
In my speech, I quoted Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King said of all of the inequalities, the inequality of health care is the most inhuman, he said, because people could die.
So I see freedom as freedom to to thrive, to live and the rest, but also to honor the vision of our founders, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, and the aspirations of our children to live in this great democracy.
The greatest country that ever existed in the history of the world.
Thank you so much, Madam Speaker.
(MUSIC) Funding for To the Contrary provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
The Park Foundation.
And the Charles A, Frueauff Foundtion.