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Nancy Pelosi to GOP and Tea Party: Bring It On

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I've covered eight Speakers of the House since coming to Washington as a young reporter for a string of midwestern newspapers in 1965, including six at fairly close range since helping start a newspaper covering Congress in 1994, and all were figures to be reckoned with. But none of them, with the possible exception of Tip O'Neill and Newt Gingrich, were as much fun to watch and write about as Nancy Pelosi.

If you don't believe me, read her revealing interview with The Hill's Bob Cusack and Jared Allen on the day after Tuesday's round of primaries and special elections in which she lays down the gantlet to Republicans.

The headline tells you all you need to know -- "Bring it on, says Nancy Pelosi, dismissing GOP election hopes" -- but the story also tells you a lot more about why the first woman Speaker figures to be a match for any of her predecessors.

As I wrote in a the column after Pelosi beat out Steny Hoyer for the post of House minority leader in November 2002, Republicans couldn't wait to portray the San Francisco Democrat as a knee-jerk liberal and "female Che Guevera from Haight Ashbury." But I cautioned them to "hold off ordering the champagne because Pelosi may be just what the Democrats needed to put the pugnacious new House majority leader, Tom 'The Hammer' DeLay, in his place when the 108th Congress convenes in January.

"She has some of the best political bloodlines in Congress," I wrote. "She learned how to turn political favors into votes by helping her father, the political boss of Baltimore, Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., keep track of constituent requests in what he called the 'favor file.'"

I concluded, in what now looks, in retrospect, to be a brilliant piece of political punditry, that "Republicans may view Pelosi as the answer to their dreams, but the daughter of the legendary former congressman and three-time mayor of Baltimore could turn out to be their worst nightmare."

Read the Cusack-Allen interview and decide for yourself.

***

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a message for Republicans this fall: Bring it on.

A buoyant Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday basked in the Democrats' special-election triumph while bashing Republicans and expressing confidence that her party will retain control of the House.

In an interview with The Hill, the Speaker said it was very important to her that Democrats retain the late Rep. John Murtha's (D-Pa.) seat, which they did Tuesday night.

Pelosi, who was very close with Murtha, said Republicans once again tried to nationalize an election by way of an "anti-Obama, anti-Pelosi" message.

"It didn't work," Pelosi said, calling the strategy Republicans have employed regularly in recent years "predictable."

Asked about House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) recent claim that there are 100 House seats in play, Pelosi responded, "Let him think that."

She said there are "more than 200" House Democrats who will be reelected "easily," but cautioned that she never underestimates her opponents.

Pelosi is clearly happy and relieved that former Murtha aide Mark Critz will replace his old boss. Throughout The Hill's interview, Pelosi laughed, cracked some jokes and even teased her questioners.

The 111th Congress has progressed at a frenetic pace for Pelosi, who recently turned 70.

Pelosi aides say she has long relished her all-consuming job, and some have said it is difficult keeping up with her.

Told there is still much time before the midterm elections, Pelosi interrupted and questioned the premise: "I have a lot of time?" She added that sometimes she asks her staff, "Can I have five minutes to make a phone call?"

The intense healthcare reform debate was exhausting for Pelosi and her caucus, but she beamed about passing the bill. And two months after it became law, there is a sense of renewed energy about the Speaker as election season heats up.

"I love campaigns. I really love campaigns," Pelosi said, her hand forming a fist.

Flashing a smile, she indicated she's not bothered by the anti-incumbent mood of the country.
"I'm kind of anti-incumbent myself, as a matter of fact, depending on who you're talking about."

She proudly notes how much time she invests in protecting the House Democratic Caucus, whether it's legislating or fundraising or making the case that voters should trust Democrats far more than Republicans.

Fear motivates the Speaker -- specifically, the fear of reverting to minority status.

While acknowledging that Republicans are hungry to return to power in the nation's capital, Pelosi said, "We certainly were [hungry in the minority.] I remember it well."

Despite some predictions of a huge GOP wave this fall, Pelosi says it's not going to happen: "One thing I know for sure is that Democrats will retain their majority in the House of Representatives."

In many ways, Pelosi is in the prime of her career. After years of battling Tom DeLay and President George W. Bush, Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues are calling the shots in Washington.

But without Bush around to blame for stalled legislation, Pelosi has had to manage the wants and needs of liberals and conservative Democrats.

The healthcare debate was a test of her ability to pass arguably the most controversial bill in decades, and when she did it, she cemented her status as one of the most powerful Speakers ever.

But she has many more goals, such as passing climate change legislation and repealing the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

More than three years into her Speakership, Republicans privately admit they underestimated her when she took the gavel in 2007. Taking it back has proven far more difficult than they initially believed.

Being the target of GOP attacks doesn't bother Pelosi, who has long said she is fair game because she is in the "arena." The salvos that conservatives fire her way only help her fundraising, she said.

During the interview, Pelosi displayed a bit of a swagger. When pressed about whether she'll have the votes on various pieces of legislation, Pelosi calmly said, "When we bring a bill to the floor, we win."

And asked if she is pleased with the enthusiasm from the left about the elections, Pelosi said, "It's never enough. I always want more."

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