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Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman from California's 8th District, is noted for her support of issues like environmentalism, women's reproductive rights, and human rights. An outspoken critic of Republican policies, she was a key in unifying Democrats leading to taking control of the House of Representatives in the 2006 elections.
Known for: First woman Speaker of the House (2007)
Occupation: Politician, Democratic Congressional Representative from California
Dates: March 26, 1940 -
Born Nancy D'Alesandro, the future Nancy Pelosi was raised in an Italian neighborhood in Baltimore. Her father was Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. He served three times as Baltimore's mayor and five times in the House of Representatives representing a Maryland district. He was a staunch Democrat.
Nancy Pelosi's mother was Annunciata D'Alesandro. She had been a student in law school who did not complete her studies so she could be a stay-at-home homemaker. Nancy's brothers all attended Roman Catholic schools and stayed home while attending college, but Nancy Pelosi's mother, in the interest of her daughter's education, had Nancy attend non-religious schools and then college in Washington, DC.
Nancy married a banker, Paul Pelosi, after she was out of college and became a full-time homemaker while her children were young.
They had five children. The family lived in New York, then moved to California between the births of their fourth and fifth children.
Nancy Pelosi got her own start in politics by volunteering. She worked for the primary candidacy in 1976 of California Governor Jerry Brown, taking advantage of her Maryland connections to help him win the Maryland primary. She ran for and won the position of Democratic Party chair in California.
When her oldest was a senior in high school, Pelosi ran for Congress. She won her first race, in 1987 when she was 47 years old. After winning the respect of her colleagues for her work, she won a leadership position in the 1990s. In 2002, she won election as House Minority Leader, the first woman ever to do so, after raising more money in that fall's election for Democratic candidates than any other Democrat was able to do. Her goal was to rebuild the party's strength after Congressional defeats through 2002.
With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, Pelosi was part of organizing opposition to many of the administration's proposals, as well as organizing towards success in Congressional races. In 2006, the Democrats won a majority in Congress, so in 2007, when those Democrats took office, Pelosi's former position as minority leader in the house was transformed into her becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.
From 1981 to 1983, Nancy Pelosi chaired the California Democratic Party. In 1984, she chaired the host committee for the Democratic National Convention, held in San Francisco in July. The convention nominated Walter Mondale for president and selected the first woman nominee of any major party to run for vice president, Geraldine Ferraro.
In 1987, Nancy Pelosi, then 47, was elected to Congress in a special election. She ran to replace Sala Burton who had died earlier that year, after naming Pelosi as her choice to succeed her. Pelosi was sworn into office a week after the election in June. She was appointed to the Appropriations and Intelligence Committees.
In 2001, Nancy Pelosi was elected minority whip for the Democrats in Congress, the first time a woman had held a party office. She was thus the second-ranking Democrat after Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Gephardt stepped down in 2002 as minority leader to run for president in 2004, and Pelosi was elected to take his place as minority leader on November 14, 2002. This was the first time a woman was elected to head a party's Congressional delegation.
Pelosi's influence helped raise funds and win a Democratic majority in the House in 2006. After the election, on November 16, a Democratic caucus elected Pelosi unanimously to making her their leader, leading the way for her election by the full House membership on January 3, 2007, with a majority of Democrats, to the position of Speaker of the House. Her term was effective on January 4, 2007.
She was not only the first woman to hold the office of Speaker of the House. She was also the first California representative to do so and the first of Italian heritage.
Speaker of the House
When the authorization for the Iraq war was first brought to a vote, Nancy Pelosi had been one of the nay votes. She took the election of a Democratic majority push for an end to "an open-ended obligation to a war without end."
She strongly opposed the proposal of President George W. Bush to transform part of Social Security into investments into stocks and bonds. She also opposed the efforts of some Democrats to impeach President Bush for lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, thereby triggering the conditional authorization for war that many Democrats (though not Pelosi) had voted for. The pro-impeachment Democrats also cited Bush's involvement in wiretapping citizens without a warrant as a reason for their proposed action.
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan ran as an independent against her for her House seat in 2008, but Pelosi won the election. Nancy Pelosi was re-elected as Speaker of the House in 2009. She was a major factor in the efforts in Congress that resulted in passing President Obama's Affordable Care Act. When the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2010, Pelosi opposed Obama's strategy of breaking up the bill and passing those parts that could easily pass.
Pelosi won re-election to the House easily in 2010, but Democrats lost so many seats that they also lost the ability to elect a Speaker of the House of their party. Despite opposition within her party, she was elected as the Democratic Minority Leader for the next Congress. She has been reelected to that position in later sessions of Congress.
Selected Nancy Pelosi Quotations
• I'm very proud of my leadership of the Democrats in the House of Representatives and proud of them to make history, choosing a woman as their leader. I'm proud of the fact that we have had unity in our party… We have clarity in our message. We know who we are as Democrats.
• It's an historic moment for the Congress, it's an historic moment for the women of America. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren't just waiting, women were working, never losing faith we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit. Anything is possible for them. January 4, 2007, in her first speech to Congress after her election as the first woman Speaker of the House
• It takes a woman to clean House. (2006 CNN interview)
• You must drain the swamp if you are going to govern for the people. (2006)
• Democrats haven't had a bill on the floor for 12 years. We're not here to whine about it; we will do it better. I intend to be very fair. I do not intend to give away the gavel. (2006 - looking forward to becoming Speaker of the House in 2007)
• America must be a light to the world, not just a missile. (2004)
• They'll take food out of the mouths of children in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest. (about Republicans)
• I didn't run as a woman, I ran again as a seasoned politician and experienced legislator. (about her election as party whip)
• I realized in over 200 years of our history, these meetings have taken place and a woman has never ever sat at that table. (about meeting with other Congressional leaders at White House breakfast meetings)
• For an instant, I felt as though Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton--everyone who'd fought for women's right to vote and for the empowerment of women in politics, in their professions, and in their lives--were there with me in the room. Those women were the ones who had done the heavy lifting, and it was as if they were saying, At last, we have a seat at the table. (about meeting with other Congressional leaders at White House breakfast meetings)
• Roe vs. Wade is based on a woman's fundamental right to privacy, a value that all Americans cherish. It established that decisions about whether to have a child do not and should not rest with the government. A woman -- in consultation with her family, her physician, and her faith -- is best qualified to make that decision. (2005)
• We must draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and the extreme policies put forward by the Republicans. We cannot allow Republicans to pretend they share our values and then legislate against those values without consequence.
• America will be far safer if we reduce the chances of a terrorist attack in one of our cities than if we diminish the civil liberties of our own people.
• Protecting America from terrorism requires more than just resolve, it requires a plan. As we have seen in Iraq, planning is not the Bush Administration's strong suit.
• Every American is indebted to our troops for their bravery, their patriotism, and the sacrifice they are willing to make for our country. Just as our soldiers pledge to leave no one behind on the battlefield, we must leave no veteran behind once they come home. (2005)
• Democrats did not connect well enough with the American people… We're ready for the next session of Congress. We're ready for the next election. (after 2004 elections)
• The Republicans did not have an election about jobs, healthcare, education, environment, national security. They had an election about wedge issues in our country. They exploited the loveliness of the American people, the devoutness of people of faith for a political end. Democrats are going to ban the Bible if they are elected. Imagine the ridiculousness of that, if it won votes for them. (2004 elections)
• I believe that the president's leadership and the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment, and experience. (2004)
• The president led us into the Iraq war on the basis of unproven assertions without evidence; he embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history; and he failed to build a true international coalition.
• Mr. DeLay's display today and his repeated ethical lapses have brought dishonor on the House of Representatives.
• We must be sure that every vote that is cast is a vote that's counted.
• There were two disasters last week: first, the natural disaster, and second, the man-made disaster, the disaster made by mistakes made by FEMA. (2005, after Hurricane Katrina)
• Social Security has never failed to pay promised benefits, and Democrats will fight to make sure that Republicans do not turn a guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble.
• We're being governed by decree. The president decides on a figure, he sends it over and we don't even get a chance to look at it much before we're called upon to vote on it. (September 8, 2005)
• As a mother and grandmother, I think 'lioness.' You come near the cubs, you're dead. (2006, about Republican early reaction to reports of Congressman Mark Foley's communication with House pages)
• We will not be Swift Boated again. Not on national security or anything else. (2006)
• To me, the center of my life will always be raising my family. It is the complete joy of my life. To me, working in Congress is a continuation of that.
• In the family I was raised in, love of country, deep love of the Catholic church, and a love of family were the values.
• Anybody who's ever dealt with me knows not to mess with me.
• I pride myself in being called a liberal. (1996)
• Two thirds of the public have absolutely no idea who I am. I see that as a strength. This isn't about me. It's about Democrats. (2006)
About Nancy Pelosi
• Representative Paul E. Kanjorski: "Nancy is the kind of person you can disagree with without being disagreeable."
• Journalist David Firestone: "The ability to make merry while reaching for the jugular is an essential characteristic for politicians, and friends say Ms. Pelosi learned it from one of the classic political bosses and characters of an earlier era."
• Son Paul Pelosi, Jr.: "With five of us, she was a car-pool mom for somebody every day of the week."
Women in Congress
- Father, Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., was a Roosevelt Democrat and three-term mayor of Baltimore, the first Italian American to hold that office
- Mother attended law school
- Brother, Thomas D'Alesandro III, was mayor of Baltimore 1967-1971
- Nancy Pelosi and husband Paul have five children, Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul, and Alexandra.
- Nancy Pelosi began political volunteer work when her youngest began school; she was elected to Congress when her youngest was a senior in high school