Also known as: Nancy D'Alesandro
Birth: March 26, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Occupation: congressional representative
Source: Biography Resource Center Online. Gale, 2003.
San Francisco's Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi made history in 2002 when she became the first woman elected House Democratic minority leader. Pelosi is the mother of five and the grandmother of five. She is also rich, attractive, charismatic and notoriously hard working. She is considered sincere by some accounts and shrewd by others. Those on the left love her, while conservatives capitalize on her liberal stances on gay rights, pro-choice, the environment and the war with Iraq, attacking her as a "San Francisco liberal." Upon making history and being elected to her leadership post, Pelosi said "I didn't run as a woman, I ran again as a seasoned politician and experienced legislator," according to the America's Intelligence Wire. "It just so happens that I am a woman, and we have been waiting a long time for this moment." The Democratic Party, which performed miserably in the 2000 and 2002 elections, is looking to Pelosi to correct its course.
Pelosi was born and raised Nancy D'Alesandro in the Little Italy district of Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., was a three-term mayor of Baltimore, a staunch Roosevelt Democrat, and served five terms in Congress. Her mother, Annunciata D'Alesandro, was an Italian immigrant and early feminist who dropped out of law school to care for her children and who was, by all accounts, the real strength that held the family together. Annunciata D'Alesandro also was determined that her daughter would have choices in life that she had not, and so Pelosi did not go to parochial school with her brothers and was the only sibling to attend college away from home, graduating from Trinity College in Washington, D.C.
Pelosi refers to herself as a "conservative Catholic," a notion that political conservatives scoff at. However, to Pelosi, who is pro-choice and thinks women should be admitted to the priesthood, "conservative" is about values, not a political platform. "I was raised...in a very strict upbringing in a Catholic home where we respected people, were observant, [and where] the fundamental belief was that God gave us all a free will and we were accountable for that, each of us," Pelosi said in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter. "In the family I was raised in, love of country, deep love of the Catholic church, and a love of family were the values." Despite her leftward voting record, however, "Nancy is the kind of person you can disagree with without being disagreeable," Representative Paul E. Kanjorski, a Democrat who does not share Pelosi's liberal views, told the Boston Globe. She has what the Almanac of American Politics calls "a capacity for keeping all parts of her party happy."
Politics is in Pelosi's blood; following in their father's footsteps, her brother Tom served a term as mayor of Baltimore. Her daughter Alexandra is a television producer who made the HBO special Journeys With George, a candid documentary on the George W. Bush presidential campaign. And, daughter Christine is chief of staff for a Massachusetts congressman.
After graduating college, she married Paul Pelosi, a San Francisco investment banker. They set up house in New York City, and she had four children in five years before moving to California and having her fifth. Pelosi was a full-time mom; she stayed home when her children were young, but began volunteering for the Democratic Party, often enlisting the help of the children to stuff envelopes. She used her Baltimore ties in 1976 to score the Maryland presidential primary for then-California Governor Jerry Brown. Though she won a bid for chair of the California Democratic Party, Pelosi did not run for an elective office until she was 47 years old and her oldest child was a senior in high school. "To me, the center of my life will always be raising my family," Pelosi told Sally Jacobs of the Boston Globe. "It is the complete joy of my life. To me, working in Congress is a continuation of that."
Her first run was for Congress in 1987. She won the election as an environmentalist and champion of AIDS prevention. She insisted on tougher trade relations with such human rights violating countries as China. She served as a member of the Appropriations Committee and Select Intelligence Committee and "remained a low-key congressional player while earning a reputation for her hard work," according to Jacobs. The congresswoman finally made a move for a leadership position in the late 1990s, and won a heated contest for House minority whip, becoming the highest-ranking woman in Congressional history. Pelosi won the vote for House Minority Leader with 177 votes out of 206 on November 14, 2002.
Pelosi's strongest assets include a remarkable talent for fundraising. She raised almost $8 million for Democratic candidates in the 2002 election alone--more than any other Democrat. She also can count on the support of women, liberals, and members of the California delegation in the House. The fact that she is telegenic, charismatic and the first female to hold the top Democratic seat certainly work for her in the media.
With politicians on both sides of the aisle trying to manufacture a bipartisan front in the face of an impending war, Pelosi was never shy about her intention to stand up to the Republican majority. She voted against using military force in Iraq. "We must draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and the extreme policies put forward by the Republicans," Pelosi is quoted as saying in the American Prospect. "We cannot allow Republicans to pretend they share our values and then legislate against those values without consequence."
Democrats looked to Pelosi to strengthen and realign the Party, which foundered helplessly on issues in the 2000 and 2002 elections and performed miserably at the polls. Pelosi embraced the challenge, confident she could turn the ship around. "One lesson we have learned is that we have to have a Democratic message nationally," she told Jacobs. "We did not have an antidote to the poison the Republicans were putting out there. But we will."
After the Democrats lost the 2004 presidential election, the job of leading the opposition to the Bush Administration fell to Pelosi and Senate minority leader Harry Reid. Pelosi played a key role in organizing the Democrats' successful opposition to Bush's 2005 proposal to partially privatized the Social Security system. During 2006, she proved very successful at raising money for Democratic candidates for Congress. Democrats won a majority of the House in the 2006 elections, after 12 years in the minority, so Pelosi moved from minority leader to speaker of the House.
As speaker, Pelosi led Democrats to pass a flurry of legislation in their first 100 days in power, including ethics reform that placed new restrictions on lobbyists, an increase in the minimum wage, and enactment of all the anti-terrorism reforms recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. She angered some of the most combative members of her party by refusing to consider impeachment of Bush.
In April of 2007, Pelosi led a congressional delegation that visited Syria and met with its president, Bashar Assad. The Bush Administration, which refused to negotiate with Syria, considering it a sponsor of terrorism, strongly criticized the trip. Pelosi insisted that talking with Syria was key to achieving peace in the Middle East. She and the other congresspeople said they pressured Assad to back off his support for Islamic militants, to not allow insurgents to cross from his country into Iraq, and to distance Syria from Iran.
Pelosi and Reid led the Democratic effort in the spring of 2007 to pass a bill that set a deadline of October 1, 2007, for the United States to begin withdraw troops from Iraq, but Bush vetoed the bill. Faced with an impasse, Pelosi and Reed abandoned their attempts to pressure Bush to accept a deadline. Many Democrats joined with Republicans to continue funding the war without restrictions. Pelosi, however, announced that she would not vote for the war funding bill.
Political observers questioned how much Pelosi had accomplished in her first year as speaker. They questioned her partisan legislative battling with Bush and other Republicans, since many key Democratic initiatives had been vetoed by Bush or stopped by Republican filibusters in the Senate. However, in early 2008, Pelosi quickly agreed with Bush on a plan to stimulate the economy with tax rebates, upsetting some Democrats who favored a different economic strategy. Some observers felt the decision would be a turning point in her speakership, toward bipartisan compromise.
August 15, 2008: Pelosi said the House would consider expanded offshore drilling as part of energy legislation when Congress reconvenes in September. Source: New York Times, August 16, 2008.
August 25, 2008: Pelosi was a keynote speaker on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. Source: CBS News, August 26, 2008.
August 2008: Pelosi's pro-abortion comments on NBC's Meet the Press drew sharp criticism from several U.S. bishops. Source: Washington Post, August 27, 2008.
October 3, 2008: Pelosi, speaking after the passage of the $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial system, said Congress would conduct hearings on what caused the crisis. Source: CNNMoney.com, October 3, 2008.