Nancy Pelosi, 75, made history in 2007 by becoming the first woman speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. She later achieved landmark successes in partnership with President Barack Obama, pushing through economic stimulus legislation, an overhaul of Wall Street regulations and the Affordable Care Act.
But electoral defeats followed her legislative successes. Today she leads a Democratic minority in the House, sometimes bucking Obama, as in the recent battle over trade expansion in Asia.
She sat down with me recently over bowls of chocolate fudge ice cream to discuss Democratic gains on social issues, her unfinished aims on climate policy, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and her uphill fight to win back the House. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of our conversation.
HARWOOD: The first political convention I covered was 1984, Walter Mondale in San Francisco. Republicans were taunting the San Francisco Democrats as out of step with the rest of the country. The country seems to have moved toward the San Francisco Democrats. Talk about that.
PELOSI: What they had intended to mean as something not complimentary, we took as a compliment. St. Francis of Assisi is a patron saint of our city. It's about a respect that we have for the dignity and worth of every person. They were referencing, in many ways, the pride we took in our LGBT community at that time, but also our leadership on the environment, on equal rights in every respect.
I always said to people, "Pay attention to what we're saying because you will be saying it sometime soon." That's really their problem. It's our pride.
HARWOOD: But here's the irony: At the time that they were invoking those themes, it appeared that Democrats couldn't lose the House. Now people look at the House and say, given the way districts are drawn and the number of competitive seats, you guys can't win the House back.
PELOSI: I don't necessarily subscribe to that. You have campaigns. And in this campaign, I'm hoping that there will be such a clear exchange of ideas rather than the politics of personal destruction that we've seen, that we don't even have to wait.
We're very excited. We have people who want to run. They believe they can win. It's a presidential year. That makes a difference. And this is the year of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. If we take that message to the public so that people who haven't been voting understand to be patriotic is to vote—people suffered and died so that you could do this—that re-engages people to have a reason to register, a reason to vote.