OPINION: Nancy Pelosi — Still Relevant And Still Important, Despite Tenure


A cartoon drawing of Nancy Pelosi with the words "too polarizing?" over her eyes
Graphic by Sarah Wong

Nancy Pelosi is a 78 year old, 15-term Congresswoman from San Francisco who, with pride, admits that her favorite food is chocolate. Pelosi was the first woman to serve as House Minority Leader and Speaker of the House, a major achievement for women in American politics, and has led the Democratic Party since 2003.

As Speaker, she helped push through major pieces of legislation like the Affordable Care Act and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, blocked Social Security privatization, and helped negotiate the Paris Climate Accord.

These laws, which have shaped American politics for the last 12 years, should be points of pride for other progressives and accomplishments around which to rally during the midterm elections in November.

However, Republican politicians are attempting to tie Pelosi to Congress’ seemingly never-ending gridlock, and Democrats running in contested districts and Senate races do not want to associate with her for fear of alienating more moderate Republicans or “Obama-Trump” voters.

Up and coming Democrats’ choice to distance themselves from Pelosi may have short-term gains, but could prove futile and unwise as she is an effective legislator and skilled negotiator.

Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, encompassing Pittsburgh and its suburbs, was perceived as a conservative stronghold until its representative Tim Murphy resigned after allegedly asking his mistress to have an abortion last year. Conor Lamb, a former Marine and Assistant U.S. Attorney, gradually gained on his opponent Rick Saccone in the polls and posed enough of a threat that Republicans spent over $8 million on this special election alone.

Lamb ran as a traditional progressive in many ways, supporting background checks for people buying a gun and maintaining the Affordable Care Act. Lamb differed from other candidates by refusing to support Pelosi in her bid for Speaker of the House if the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives this November.

Lamb won his election by 627 votes (.2 percent), a district that Trump won by 20 points in the 2016 election. Progressive politicians around the country were shocked by his win and lauded it as revolutionary, a claim made most by those in Congress that have been vocal in their desire for a change in Democratic leadership.

Lamb’s public distaste for Pelosi has been echoed by other democratic candidates running for closely contested positions as well.

Framing Pelosi as one of the most negative aspects of the Democratic Party cannot be solely attributed to sexism. It is unclear if Lamb would have focused on this issue as much if he had had a primary challenger instead of being appointed to run in this election, because then he would have to guide his message based on another candidate’s positions.

Representative Beto O’Rourke, running against current Texas Senator Ted Cruz for his seat, backed Representative Tim Ryan’s unsuccessful bid for Minority Leader against Pelosi in 2016 and has stated that he does not want Pelosi to campaign for him in his Senate campaign. Representative Seth Moulton from Massachusetts has called for new Democratic Party leadership while campaigning with multiple veterans running for Congress, like Conor Lamb.

Marie Newman, who lost her Democratic primary to incumbent Illinois Representative Dan Lipinski, one of few conservative Democrats, held off on completely supporting Pelosi during her primary campaign.

Other figures in Democratic leadership are the male equivalent of Pelosi: Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn are octogenarian men from predominantly liberal areas who have been in Congress for 37 and 26 years respectively. A younger, junior member of Congress would have to have a broad coalition of support to even think about successfully challenging any of the three of them for a leadership position.

Perhaps, if this blue wave of new Democratic candidates comes to fruition in November through increased millennial voter turnout, there might be a large enough group of new Representatives who say that they will not support Pelosi for Speaker, which could then cause her to lose the vote of both parties and give the Speaker’s position to Republicans — the opposite of what Democrats want.

Nancy Pelosi has been one of the most effective legislators of the modern era, and to pin all of the Democratic Party’s failings onto her is not pragmatic for Democrats if they retake the House in seven months.

While lauding the accomplishments of Hoyer and Clyburn, it is important to acknowledge they still do not have the precedent and proven track record that she does. Politicians should think about short-term gains, but the course of history takes significant time and effort to change, which is why thinking about long-term strategy is more advantageous.

Losing Pelosi as the potential Speaker of the House could have long-lasting adverse effects on the Democratic Party’s trajectory for the next era of American politics, and new representatives maintaining doubts about Pelosi should proceed with caution.

Jo Nordhoff-Beard SC ’19 is an English major from Seattle. She enjoys Sam Hunt, flavored seltzer water, and reading memoirs written by women.

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