Who Is Nancy Pelosi?
Nancy Pelosi began her political career as a volunteer and gradually moved up the ranks, making the leap to public office in a special election for California's Eighth District in 1987. She became the first female Democratic leader of the House of Representatives and the first female speaker of the House.
Early Life and Career
Pelosi was born Nancy D'Alesandro on March 26, 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland. Pelosi carries on the family tradition of being involved in politics. Her father served in Congress and was the mayor of Baltimore for 12 years, and her brother Thomas later served as mayor of Baltimore as well.
Pelosi graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., in 1962. While a student there, she met Paul Pelosi. The two later married and moved to San Francisco. They had five children: Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul and Alexandra.
Focused on raising her family, Pelosi got into politics slowly, starting out as a volunteer for the Democratic Party. She hosted parties and helped with campaigns. Pelosi rose up in the party ranks, serving as a California representative to the Democratic National Committee from 1976 to 1996. She also served as the state and northern chair of the California Democratic Party.
In 1987, Pelosi made the leap to public office, winning a special election for California's Eighth District, which includes San Francisco. As a member of the House of Representatives, she has served on the Appropriations Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Pelosi has been a strong supporter of increased funding for health research and for other health care and housing programs and initiatives. She is also an advocate for human rights and the environment.
In 2002, Pelosi was selected to be the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, making her the first woman in history earn the honor. Four years later, she again broke new ground for women in U.S. politics. After the Democrats won majorities in both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, Pelosi was chosen to become the first woman to take the post of speaker of the House.
Speaker of the House
As the leader of the Democratic Party in the House under a Republican president, Pelosi was sometimes a divisive figure. A vocal critic of President George W. Bush's stance on the war in Iraq, she advocated for the withdrawal of troops from the region. Pelosi found herself at the center of a controversy in 2009 when the CIA asserted that she had been made aware of its use of waterboarding of terrorism suspects—a technique that Pelosi had vocally opposed. Pelosi denied the CIA's claims.
Pelosi lobbied for the development of better-paying jobs, access to college education and affordable health care for all, and revised energy policy that focused on cleaner, more efficient domestic alternatives.
After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Pelosi was in a position to work with a president of the same party. She was instrumental in pushing for the health care reform legislation that became the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, a position that earned her more criticism from the GOP.
Pelosi remained House speaker until November 2010, when Republicans gained control of the House and elected John Boehner to the role, relegating Pelosi to minority leader.
As the House's top Democrat, Pelosi endured criticism for her party's losses and challenges to her leadership. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan sought to replace her as minority leader in 2016 but was unsuccessful.
On February 7, 2018, Pelosi delivered a marathon speech on the House floor to protest legislation that lacked protection for "Dreamers," the children of undocumented immigrants. Taking advantage of the "magic-minute rule," which allows House leaders to talk for as long as they want, Pelosi read testimonies from Dreamers and recited Bible passages, in all standing for some eight hours and seven minutes, a House record dating back to at least 1909.
Return to Speaker Role
After Democrats reclaimed control of the House in the 2018 midterms, Pelosi was once again elected House speaker at the beginning of 2019, placing her on the front line in the battle with President Donald Trump over his demand for $5.7 billion for a wall spanning the U.S.-Mexico border.
The stalemate turned into a contentious 35-day government shutdown, with the speaker drawing most of the president's ire for her control over congressional funding. However, shortly after Pelosi effectively canceled the traditional State of the Union address, scheduled for January 29, President Trump agreed to temporarily reopen the government.
After Congress passed a funding bill that allocated only $1.375 billion for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, allowing him to divert money for other projects to his wall. Pelosi countered by scheduling a House vote on legislation to end the national emergency, ratcheting up the pressure on Senate Republicans to take a stand on the issue. The gambit paid off, as the Republican-controlled Senate also voted to overturn the national emergency, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.
The speaker found herself increasingly at odds with the progressive wing of her party, in particular, a group of four freshmen congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — known as "the Squad." After the outspoken quartet voted against an emergency border funding bill in June, Pelosi fired back at their criticism of her negotiations. "All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world," she told The New York Times. "But they didn't have any following. They're four people and that's how many votes they got."
Pelosi and the Squad soon reunited in their opposition to Trump, after the president unleashed a Twitter diatribe in which he said the four congresswomen of color should "go back" to their countries. In mid-July, the speaker led a vote to formally condemn Trump's words as racist, the first House rebuke of a president in more than 100 years.
Pelosi was elected to a fourth term as speaker in January 2021, with a 216-208 vote.
Impeachment of Donald Trump
After months of resisting calls from progressives to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Trump, in September 2019, Pelosi announced that the House would launch a formal impeachment inquiry. The tipping point came with reports that Trump had withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure its government into investigating the actions of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden's son. "The president must be held accountable," the speaker said. "No one is above the law."
On October 31, the Pelosi-led House took the next step by approving a resolution that established rules for the impeachment process, paving the way for public hearings to commence on November 11. On December 10, House Democratic leaders unveiled two articles of impeachment, charging the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
On December 18, 2019, one day after Pelosi received a scathing letter from the president in which he slammed the "invalid" process, the House voted almost entirely along party lines for the two articles of impeachment. The speaker then delayed the process of relaying the articles to the Senate, in hopes of securing terms for a fair trial in the Republican-controlled upper chamber, before finally following through on January 15, 2020.
Other than sending a team of House impeachment managers to argue the Democrats' case, Pelosi could do little as Senate Republicans voted against allowing additional witnesses and expressed the belief that the president's conduct did not warrant removal from office.
Her frayed relationship with Trump was on display during his televised State of the Union address on February 4, with the president seemingly snubbing her attempted handshake and the speaker ripping up a copy of his speech afterward. The following day, the impeachment saga came to an end when the Senate voted along party lines to acquit Trump on both charges.
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