Nancy Pelosi: The Rolling Stone Interview
It was a bone-cold January day in the nation’s capital. The federal government — finally back in business after the longest shutdown in American history — opened three hours late due to a dusting of snow and a “flash freeze” in the forecast. Not that it mattered to anyone who worked inside the speaker’s office. Nancy Pelosi was there at her usual time, and her aides were expected to be there too. There was work to do: committees to finish assigning, a postponed State of the Union to organize, and less than three weeks to hammer out a deal with the White House on border security before funding was set to run out again.
Pelosi is at the height of her power, having recaptured the House, dispatched an attempted coup of her leadership, and faced down the president in a very public, extremely high-stakes fight. Her approval rating has risen eight points since November, and now sits higher than it has been in more than a decade.
Nancy Pelosi has waited a long time for this. Born 78 years ago, she was the youngest of Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr.’s seven children, and the only girl. While her elder brother was groomed to follow in their father’s footsteps, Pelosi got married, moved to San Francisco, and raised five children before she seriously considered a run for office. When she arrived in Congress, after winning a special election in 1987, women made up just five percent of the House of Representatives. Pelosi served for two decades before she was elected the first female speaker of the House, in 2007, the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government, and second in line to the presidency.
She welcomed Rolling Stone staff writer Tessa Stuart and the magazine’s founder, Jann S. Wenner, into the speaker’s office, where there are frescoes on the ceiling, oil paintings of the San Francisco Bay and the California coastline, and an expansive view of the Washington Monument. She wore a long, thin gold pin, with a tiny eagle perched on top. It was a mace: the ancient Roman symbol of power. Technically, it’s a bludgeon — the person who wields the bludgeon holds the power. After retreating from a 35-day standoff with her over funding for his border wall, President Trump seemed well aware who wielded the bludgeon in their relationship, at least for the moment. Wenner had come to the interview with a gift: a box of fancy chocolates. (Pelosi is well-known for her love of chocolate.)
Nancy Pelosi: Oh, my goodness. Maison du Chocolat. This is the real thing. Thank you so much. Should we start?
Rolling Stone: Yeah, let’s start, because you’re busy.
No, I meant start with the chocolate.
Of course. Life has changed. Rolling Stone interviews used to start with pot. . . . Now it’s chocolate.
Isn’t that true.
So what do you think your chief purpose is now, in this era of divided government?
The wisdom of our founders was that we would have co-equal branches of government. I think in a large sense, my responsibility now — and it seems to be having an impact — is to impress upon the other branches of government, the executive and the judiciary, the role of the legislative branch. That means to not only pass laws — the Constitution gives us the power of the purse, it gives us the responsibility for oversight, and we will exercise that power. And if we don’t, we would be delinquent in our duties. As speaker of the House, I see my responsibility to honor the Constitution — separation of powers as a co-equal branch of government.
Would you say respect for the concept of co-equal branches of government has been in decline in the past decade or two?
Mostly since this president. President Obama recognized the role of Congress. Right now, we see some Republicans — [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell for one — complicit in this president usurping the power of the Congress by saying, “If he doesn’t sign it, we won’t pass it.” Well, that’s not the way the balance works. We put forth legislation for the good of the people, and we send it to the president. If he doesn’t sign, you try to override it.
What is your relationship with McConnell like these days?
I’ve worked with him over the years as a member of the Appropriations Committee, back when I was still on committees. I have a respectful relationship with him. I have been disappointed that he was willing to have the government shut down because he wouldn’t face down the president on the president’s bad policy. That’s discouraging for the leader in the United States Senate. Does he take an oath to the president? No. He takes an oath to protect the Constitution.
Do you think there’s anything the president would do that would cause McConnell to break with him? Another government shutdown, or if he declares a national emergency, or a damning report from [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller?
I’m starting a new club. It’s called the Too Hot to Handle Club. The reason the government is open now is because we did make a shutdown too hot to handle. Finally Mitch was feeling the heat, which he conveyed to the president, and here we are with open government, able now to negotiate on how to protect our borders.
Public opinion is everything. Lincoln said: Public sentiment is everything. With it, you can accomplish almost everything; without it, almost and practically nothing. I’m paraphrasing, but nothing is more powerful than the stories of the people affected. You can roll out statistics and timetables, but the consequences — the emotional connection to the rest of the public — is what really weighed in.
Would they back him if he tried to declare a phony national emergency at the border?
The national emergency has its critics on the Republican side. If [Trump] does it, then the next president — whom, we predict, will be a Democrat — can also do it, and they don’t want to establish a precedent that a president can do this, because that really totally usurps the power of the government.
A damning report from Mueller — would that lead us toward impeachment?
You want to remember that President Nixon was not impeached. The Republicans went to him when they saw [the evidence]. The House proceeded with the hearings, but they never impeached because of information that came out that made it clear that they shouldn’t put the country through this process. It’s a very disruptive process to put the country through, and it’s an opportunity cost in terms of time and resources. You don’t want to go down that path unless it is unavoidable.
We have no idea — nor should we — what Mueller may have, if it involves the president or his campaign. I don’t know how bad it would have to be for them to do something, but the Republicans in Congress have ignored a great deal. You have a Cabinet that is a partially “acting Cabinet” because people have left in disgrace or dismay. You have a White House which is a fact-free zone. They have no interest in evidence, data, science or truth when it comes to making decisions.
You would think that there would be some check, but remember this about the Republicans in Congress: There is nothing that President Trump advocates for as president that our Republican colleagues in the House haven’t been [doing] there longer and worse. Name any subject. Name a woman’s right to choose. Name climate. Name LGBTQ discrimination issues. Name gun safety. Name immigration policy. Name fairness in our economy. He’s terrible. They’ve been there longer, and more so, he’s their guy.
Don’t you think he’s worse on immigration?
Look, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush were great on immigration. The president I quoted most in the campaign was Reagan. Reagan said, “We must recognize that the vital force for America’s pre-eminence in the world is every generation of new immigrants who comes to our shores, and when America fails to recognize that, we will fail to be pre-eminent in the world.” Reagan, Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama — all excellent on immigration. George W. Bush couldn’t convince his party because they were just never going to be there. This president comes in, and he’s worse. On this, I have to say, they’re bad on the policy, he’s terrible on the policy, and the people and the way he describes them, he’s so disrespectful and discriminatory.
As the Republican Party has gotten more racist and undemocratic, how does that change how you think about working to find compromise? You’ve said America is experiencing a “schism of the soul.”
That’s Toynbee. I also quote St. Augustine — I’m a very devout Catholic — St. Augustine, 17 centuries ago, said, “Any government that is not formed to promote justice is just a bunch of thieves.” Seventeen hundred years ago. The Republicans are anti-science. They are anti-governance. They don’t have to do anything! They don’t have to do anything about climate, which is the challenge of this generation. They don’t have to do anything about meeting the needs of people because they don’t even care to hear what the needs of the people are. The list goes on. I promised we would have an open Congress, that we would try to start out with the issues where we can find common ground. We have a responsibility to find common ground — if we can’t, to stand our ground. We talked about infrastructure from Day One.
How can I say this? I’m respectful of the office that he holds. I see every challenge as an opportunity, and I pray for him and I pray for the United States of America.
You said the wall is “like a manhood thing with him.” Were you purposely trying to get under his skin?
I was saying it in a private meeting, and of course it went right out of the room. Boom. It was out the door before I even walked out myself.
What do you think makes him tick?
Does he tick? Why are we assuming? “Tick” has a certain predictability to it.
How do you negotiate with someone like that — when there’s no agreed-upon standards of truth or fact or morality or precedents or ethics? He completely can pull anything on you. How do you deal with that?
I’ll take you to my first meeting with the president, as president. It’s the first meeting with the House and Senate Democratic and Republican leadership — like eight people and then him. This is historic. I’ve been there as leader, and I’ve been there as speaker. Article One meeting Article Two of the Constitution. We would have normally been in a Cabinet Room, but he wanted to do this in the East Wing for some reason, so we could have snacks or something. It was weird. But anyway, so we’re in this meeting, and I’m thinking, “How will he begin this historic meeting? Will he quote the Bible? Will he quote the Constitution or any of our founders? Will he tell a personal story of his family, and what this means?”
[Hunches over, scowls, glances sideways] “You know I won the popular vote?”
What?! That was shocking. And then he said — I’m getting to your point, you’ll see why — “Because 3 to 5 million people voted illegally.” There’s a protocol to these meetings: The president speaks, he makes his spiel or whatever, and then the speaker speaks, and then the majority leader, and then the minority leader in the House, and the Senate. I’m looking around, and I’m thinking, “Chuck Schumer has never been to this meeting before. Paul Ryan’s never been to this meeting before. Donald Trump has never been to this meeting before.”
You’re the only one?
And Mitch McConnell — who rarely speaks — so I thought, “They don’t know the protocol.” “Mr. President, that is not true,” I say. “That is not true. What you are saying has no evidence, no data, no truth, no fact to it.” He doesn’t realize he’s supposed to be making some kind of an opening statement about America and “These are our priorities” and “Let’s see how we can work together,” but he didn’t go there. And I didn’t go there. If he’s not going to respect his office, why should I? So when I say, “That’s not true.” He says — a good comeback, I have to give him credit — “I’m not even counting California.”
I said, “The reason I’m saying what I’m saying to you is the following: If we are going to work together, you have to stipulate to a fact — whether it’s a dollar number that is your budget, or a time frame — you have to stipulate. You can’t negotiate unless you have a starting point, and you have to agree on what that is to a fact. And if you’re not going to do that, it’s impossible to come to any agreement. Isn’t that right, my colleagues?” Because they know. They would never go into a negotiation unless you say, “What’s our bottom line?” So I said, “I thought that this conversation might take us to what our needs are for infrastructure, because you’ve always talked about that. . . .” He said, “Infrastructure. Infrastructure! Yeah, infrastructure, I have a plan right here.” [Picks up the lining of the chocolate box, and waves it around] It wasn’t the lining of a candy box, but it could have been a napkin or something. “I have the plan right here. It’s a trillion-dollar plan, and we can pass it right away. Right, Mitch?”
Mitch says, “Not unless it’s paid for.” That was the end of that.
It puts you in an interesting position because you’re having to anticipate things that were unthinkable in the past. For example, you’ve mentioned that there was a plan in case he declared the 2018 midterm results illegal. What was the plan?
Well, I’m not going to divulge it, because we may still use it. But we were ready. We’ve been ready for a number of things. We’ve been ready for over one year if he were to fire Mueller, and we’ve been ready if he would fire [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein. We had rallies on the ground. We had scores of bipartisan or nonpartisan leaders around the country to say, “That’s a constitutional crisis.” We are always ready for what he might do, and I think our readiness kept him at bay.
Do you have a plan for 2020, if he declares the election illegitimate?
You just have to win big. When the women marched, that made such a big difference. He gets inaugurated — one of the most disgraceful inaugural addresses ever, with no competition whatsoever for that title — then the next day the women marched. The women marched! Oh, my God. It made such a difference. It wasn’t political. We didn’t organize it. It was spontaneous. It was organic, and women spoke and they saw the value of their presence. And we saw, right after that, the Muslim bans at the airports. [The administration] couldn’t achieve what they set out to do because of the relentless, persistent, dissatisfied outside mobilization.
The Women’s March was a galvanizing moment — many women decided to run afterward. When you first were elected, in 1987, there were 23 women in the House. Now there are more than a hundred. How has Congress changed in that time?
Imagine: [Out of] 435 people, 23 women? You must be kidding. We made a decision, on our side, that we’d reach out and encourage women to run. Before the November election, three months ago, [Democrats] had 65. [Since I was elected in 1987], we had increased our number by more than five times, from 12 to 65. [Republicans] had gone from, like, 11 to 20. Now they’re down to 15 because they lost some in . We have 87, I think it is. A third of our caucus are women. Women marched, women ran, women voted, women won, women are here, and it is fabulous.
What kind of difference is that making? Is it changing the way laws are made?
Well, over the years it has made a tremendous difference. Today we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and celebrating it, we introduced the equal-pay-for-equal-work bill, which we hope to have signed into law. But I don’t want to confine women to just [women’s] issues, as important as they are. Women here are leaders on national security, they’re leaders on economic security. Women have made their mark across the board. Certainly the impact on a woman’s right to choose and the rest of that. No denying that women have made a tremendous difference, but not to confine women to what you might think of as typical women’s issues. Every issue is a woman’s issue.
Has it changed the way, for example, that caucus meetings run?
You know, the reason I always won my votes is because we build by consensus. And so people would say to me after meetings when I was speaker first time around, “Do you realize how different that meeting would have been if a man were running it?” Which was interesting. Because it is just different. You listen, you know? You really don’t go in with the thought, “This is what I’m gonna do. I’ll listen to what you have to say, [but] there’s one vote that counts in this room.”
You first came to Congress in the Eighties — did you ever have an experience with sexual harassment or overreaching?
When I came here, it was such a non-thing. I mean, I came as a mother of five children. I had five older brothers. I wasn’t impressed by anything any of these people had to say. I mean, I was an Italian-American Catholic — liberal in terms of politics, but very conservative in terms of family and how people interacted with one another. That’s the aura I must have given off when I came here.
In November, there was a sit-in in your office, demanding action on climate change, and some of your new caucus members participated. What was your gut reaction?
You have to understand: I came into the political arena as an organizer. You know, people say, “Oh, she was a fundraiser.” Well, no, I wasn’t a fundraiser. I had to raise money to keep the doors open so that we could march in the streets. But I was not a fundraiser, I was an organizer. I was a mom, with five children, who just really could not tolerate the idea that one in five children in America lived in poverty. That was my kitchen-to-Congress motivation, and still is. Every day I’m like, “Don a suit of armor, put on your brass knuckles, eat nails for breakfast, and go out there and stop them from taking children out of the arms of their parents, food out of the mouths of babies.” I mean, it’s just the way it is. So, in my day — go back 30 years or more — I was pushing strollers and carrying signs myself. I say to these people who come in, “I was carrying single-payer signs before you were born.”
I understand that to be an advocate you are persistent, dissatisfied and relentless. I was chair of [the Democratic Party for] Northern California for a long time. We were like, “We worked so hard to elect these people, and then they go back and they compromise. We are the purists.” I’ve been there. I understand it. You have that responsibility as an advocate — I have a different responsibility as a leader, but enjoy. You know, enjoy. That’s a new generation. People kept asking me, “Are you sick of that?” I’m like, “I’d probably be doing that myself.”
The group that staged that sit-in are advocates for the Green New Deal. There seems to be a lot of energy around the idea, but not a lot of specifics. You’ve resurrected the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. What do you want this committee empowered to do? What does it have as a goal?
When I was elected speaker — Bush is president, mind you — my flagship issue was the climate. It’s a public-health issue: clean air, clean water. It’s a national-security issue, to protect us from all of the things that engender violence, [such as] competition for food. The generals have come to tell us it is a national-security issue. It’s an economic issue, and it is a moral issue to pass this planet on to future generations in the best possible way. As a Catholic, I believe that this is God’s creation, and we have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of it.
President Bush was a denier. I mean, I loved him dearly, but he was a denier. We had Republicans on our committee who were deniers. Now, they’re a little more like, “It’s happening, but I’m not sure what the human role is.” When we lost [the Democratic majority of the House], one of the first things [Republicans] did was to restore Styrofoam to the cafeteria, no more recycling, everything went in the same trash. You know, they’re really pathetic. Because they are just handmaidens of the fossil-fuel industry, period — when they’re not handmaidens of the gun industry. So they have those two wonderful things going for them.
With George W. Bush, we passed the biggest energy bill in the history of our country, taking tens of millions of cars off the road, changed emission standards, and many of the actions that President Obama was able to take by executive order sprang from authorities in that bill. So we made a big difference. Now here we are, and technology is way down the road. There are so many more opportunities to protect.
I think coal is a disaster. It’s an oxymoron: “clean coal.” It doesn’t exist. It’s impossible. However, I fight for [miners], for their health benefits and their pension benefits. Anytime they come to Capitol Hill, 30 or 40 of them gravitate to our office as their kind of headquarters, because while the president is advertising coal, we can’t get them to pass bills for black-lung disease. I mean, we do, but it’s an effort to do it.
In any event, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we have to put a price on coal, on carbon. It might be a carbon tax. We’ll see, but that’s the reason you have hearings and see what’s possible, what the market will be, what the private sector is willing to invest in, what is working in some other countries, and what we can do working together.
You have to make decisions that you’re going to reach certain goals, and some of our goals we think are achievable. That’s why public opinion is so important. Young people know better than people who serve here in Congress that this is important to do.
How do you deal with entrenched interests — the energy companies, the coal companies, the oil companies?
Yeah, they have a lot of power here, there’s no question, but again, we have to take it to the public, and I think it should be an important part of the presidential campaign. That’s sort of the main attraction in politics — during a presidential year, we’ll be the lounge act, that’s the main event. Everything that we’re talking about has to be elevated to the presidential level.
Now, in terms of the Green New Deal [as conceived], that goes beyond what our charge is. Our charge is about saving the planet. They have in there things like single-payer and . . . what is it? Guaranteed income?
Pelosi Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill: Guaranteed income, and then a jobs guarantee.
Pelosi: And then they have, I don’t know if it’s single-payer or Medicare for All. . . . It’s kind of, like, a broader agenda. All good values, but nonetheless, not what we hope to achieve with this focused, determined, decision-making: You’re either for the planet or you are not. There is no “plan B” for the planet. We have to preserve it, and it is in great jeopardy.
Are you going to require that appointees on the Select Committee not accept contributions from energy companies?
No. But I don’t think any of them have. This is about [finding] people who care very much about the issue and know very much about the issue. I haven’t checked their filings, but I think our chairwoman — who’s fabulous — Kathy Castor from Florida, her local utility, I don’t know, 10 years ago, gave her a contribution. And [environmental activists] said, “She received money from the industry!” And it was like, “What?” She’s absolutely spectacular on this subject, killer.
Would you ask that, going forward, appointees won’t accept donations from energy companies?
What I want to know is: What is your vision about saving this planet? Secondly, what do you know about the subject? This is not a learning [process]. I have to have people who have a commitment and a knowledge about the decisions that we have to make. Tell me your vision, tell me your knowledge. We have to make some very tough decisions. Let’s work together for a plan to get this done in the soonest-possible way. The most important part of it all: vision, knowledge, judgment and strategic thinking about how to get it done. And how does it connect with the American people, so we can get it to pass the Senate and the White House?
We’re thinking big on this. We’re not holding [it against] somebody if she got a utility contribution within her lifetime. That’s just not — I mean, my daughter is really on everybody’s case about taking contributions, so I know the program. But I just want the best possible people.
There’s a lot of debate on the question of single-payer, Medicare for All — we’ve heard that expression just recently. What do you think should be done? Where do you want this to go?
This is a very interesting debate, and in any debate, as I start off this conversation, you must define your terms. Let’s stipulate to some facts here: When we passed the Affordable Care Act, for us, it was a pillar of health and economic security for America’s working families — 125 million families got better benefits, more reasonably priced, with no annual or lifetime caps, and with no prohibition if you had pre-existing consumer protections. We were on a good path, and when [Republicans] took over [Congress], they let certain things expire. People say, “Well, it’s not doing this or that.” Well, it did until it expired. Restore the reinsurance. Elect more Democratic governors so that Medicaid can be expanded and millions more people can have access in an affordable way. I myself wanted to have the public option. We couldn’t get that through the Senate, but we enabled states to do a public option if they want. This made as drastic a difference as day and night. Now, of course, everyone isn’t covered because in certain states they didn’t expand Medicaid, so now [people are proposing] Medicare for All.
When they say Medicare for All, people have to understand this: Medicare for All is not as good a benefit as the Affordable Care Act. It doesn’t have catastrophic [coverage] — you have to go buy it. It doesn’t have dental. It’s not as good as the plans that you can buy under the Affordable Care Act. So I say to them, come in with your ideas, but understand that we’re either gonna have to improve Medicare — for all, including seniors — or else people are not gonna get what they think they’re gonna get. And by the way, how’s it gonna be paid for?
Now, single-payer is a different thing. People use the terms interchangeably. Sometimes it could be the same thing, but it’s not always. Single-payer is just about who pays. It’s not about what the benefits are. That is, administratively, the simplest thing to do, but to convert to it? Thirty trillion dollars. Now, how do you pay for that?
So I said, “Look, just put them all on the table, and let’s have the discussion, and let people see what it is. But know what it is that you’re talking about.” All I want is the goal of every American having access to health care. You don’t get there by dismantling the Affordable Care Act. As Californians have said to me, “We get billions and billions of dollars out of the Affordable Care Act coming into California. Now they want to get rid of that.” How are they gonna go to single-payer in California without the money from the Affordable Care Act? Anyway, this is not a bumper-sticker war — this is a complicated issue.
What was it like to work with Obama?
People will never fully understand that every single day his administration did great things for our country. The only way they could probably see it is to see the undoing of it now. Obama was not a bragger. You know, he did great things, never talked about it that much. We were all in the trenches, fighting these people who did not necessarily share our values. Every day they spew forth horrible things into the air our children breathe and the water they drink, food safety, undoing of consumer protections. Almost every day they do something very destructive, but you don’t want to be a fearmonger. You have to kind of just keep the fight where it needs to be and win the elections, because they have ramifications.
One more complicated legislative agenda is the need to deal with the tech giants. All the privacy violations are pretty staggering — and then they are behaving like classic monopolies, which we’ve seen throughout history, and which requires a legislative solution, no?
The more people know about how some of the businesses are conducted, I think the stronger the case is for how we go forward. And again, you have to handle it in the most strategic way, so you succeed. This is not a question of making headlines back home — it’s a question of making a statute to make a difference. But some of the things that were made known about Facebook in the past couple of weeks are very stunning, in terms of exploiting children’s access to Facebook, using their parents’ credit cards. The monopoly issue is something we have to look into because it’s so related to privacy. You can’t really separate them out.
I think we’ll have more hearings. Some of these firms are responsible, some are exploitive. And I don’t know how you make a judgment — whether it’s the size of the company, or the vertical or horizontal expansion of their control of the system. I don’t want to go into it right now with names, but some of them are much better than others. So we have to do it with care.
This is what the majority is about: to have the hearings, to get the data, to make the judgment. Otherwise, you have a hearing that’s a grandstand, and it never leads to anything. On privacy, just know that we will have legislation.
We have to ask as part of our official duties: What is your favorite music of all time? And what are you listening to these days?
Usually, I like to leave my kids’ music alone, you know? And now my grandchildren. But we have three generations of U2 fans. We’re obsessed. We go to every concert. I’ve probably been to more U2 concerts than, well, certainly anybody in Congress.
I love all the music. I saw the Bruce Springsteen show on Broadway; that was great. I loved that. I loved that. I love all music from rap to — I won’t say Wagner, but I’ll say Beethoven. I mean, I like Wagner, but there are other, easier things that I like. More Italian, shall we say? Even though Beethoven wasn’t Italian.
Can we be more specific? What’s your favorite album?
I hate to say this, because it sounds not as relaxed as it should. I love some of the songs better than others, but “One” is so appropriate now. Read the words to “One.” In fact, my daughter just sent them to me over the phone.
There’s not like a “Deadhead” thing for U2 — there’s not a name for U2 fans.
Deadheads are like family to us. No, I’m telling you, in California, that’s like family to us. And actually, [Dead & Company] was planning a concert the night of our swearing-in. Idina Menzel was coming, too, and they were going to play this thing together. But since the government shut down, we had to cancel the concert, so that was too bad. We lost a lot of money.
Beatles, Stones, Dylan? Where are you on the three greats of the Sixties and the Seventies?
I probably know the words to more Beatles songs, if that means anything. I love Dylan, and I love the Stones. I’ve been to many of their concerts. I was at one concert in Argentina. I was down there for a security visit. On the street, they had the banners: the Rolling Stones with Bob Dylan. Oh, my God! We had to go, right? So we had to rearrange everything. And we go, and there is Bob Dylan singing “Like a Rolling Stone”! It was just incredible. And at that concert — this is having nothing to do with anything — [Rep.] Nita Lowey, who’s [Appropriations] chair now, she’d never been to a concert. I said, “Look, Nita. We’re concertgoers. You may smell things you don’t recognize, but we are concertgoers. If you go, you have to stay.”
Through the last song.
So we go there, and I’m telling you, Argentina — the mosh pit must have been 50,000 people. They just turn out, right? Now it’s the Stones and Bob Dylan. This guy comes up to Nita, who’s sitting on the end, at her first-ever concert, and he says to her, “Miss, make a contribution to fight HIV/AIDS, and then you get this gift.” And the gift was a pack of condoms.
And she’s like, “What? What?”
“Never mind, just put it in your purse.”
Of all people, 80,000 people in the place, they pick her to go give a pack of condoms to, at her first concert ever.
As you’re looking toward the next two to four years, what is one thing you feel you need to get done before you retire?
The Affordable Care Act, to grow it and expand it, and increase the number of people who are covered by it. The climate thing is a big deal for me. It is. But, here’s the thing: We have some overarching challenges to our economy, and therefore our society. The disparity in income in our country is an obscenity. And I’ve said to the members, “Everything that we put forth has to be in furtherance of reducing that disparity.” Whether we’re talking about tax policy, whether we’re talking about investments in education and workforce development, whether we’re talking about infrastructure and how we do it in a way that increases paychecks, or how we do our oversight. We don’t begrudge anybody their success or their wealth. We just don’t like exploitation of the worker.
And we’ve had this conversation a number of times. Forty years ago, the disparity between income was maybe 40 times, [between] the CEO and the worker. When productivity increased, everybody’s pay went up. About 20 years ago, that all changed: bottom line, quarterly reports. So now the disparity is more like 350 to 400 times. CEO pay goes up because he’s cut costs by either firing people or they’re not paying them very much. This is sinful, this is sinful. So for me, how we get onto a path of addressing that has to be a very important part of this next Congress.
The only way our economy is going to be really strong is if you have increased purchasing power of the middle class. It’s not about giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country. That wasn’t supposed to happen. The [Republicans] told us that wasn’t going to happen: “Oh, we just want to change the corporate tax — we’re not changing anything with individuals.” And then they did it in the dark of night — 83 percent of the benefits to the top one percent. It is shameful what they’re doing to the national debt, to enrich people. I mean, again, we don’t resent people their success and their wealth, but then they say, “Well, now we have to cover it by cutting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security and the rest of that, because we have this national debt”?
The budget should be a statement of our values. And I look forward to putting us on that course. Then before you know it — 18 more months or so, 19, is it? — we’ll have a new president. And we can accomplish some of that. But you have to be ready. And you have to build the case. I call it “crescendo,” to use a musical metaphor. You’re always building, building, building. Building the knowledge, building the public awareness, building the strategy, as you keep revamping it in new circumstances, so that we can win.
As you look back on your legacy in the House, and at your career, do you have any regrets?
Regrets? I don’t know if I have any regrets.
I’ve become a target of the Republicans because I’m effective. And because I can out-raise them, outsmart them politically and out-negotiate them and the rest. And they know that, and they had to take me down. My name was in 132,000 ads paid for by the Republicans in the last election. Some people said, “Oh, you should have had your own PR campaign.” Well, I couldn’t even think of doing that. I spent every dollar to elect the Democrats. I don’t know, I don’t call that a regret. Regret? Do I have any regrets, Drew? Have I ever mentioned regret?
Drew Hammill: No.
Pelosi: We don’t deal in regrets. What we deal with is, every situation is an opportunity, including the guy down the street [points behind her head toward the White House]. How do we use this to spring into something better? And quite frankly, he’s been a real asset. Terrible for the country, but a great organizer.
You mentioned all of the commercials that were run about you in the last election—
In the past, when you’ve been asked about those kinds of commercials, you’ve brushed it off and said, “I’m not worried about my own approval, I’m worried about electing more Democrats.”
But does it feel good to finally be getting some approval? Do you get to enjoy it?
Well, it feels good. I accept all the compliments on behalf of the unity of my caucus. As I say to them, and maybe I said it earlier, forgive me, “Our diversity is our strength, our unity is our power.” I always remember Mario Cuomo saying this to me when he became governor [of New York]. I knew him through the Italian community. I said, “How’s it feel to be governor?” He said, “I feel like the Thanksgiving turkey. They bring you out on the tray and everybody oohs and ahs, and then they begin to carve you up.”
So, who knows what’s next? But for the moment, we want to do what we can to protect the workers, 800,000 families deprived of a paycheck [in the shutdown]. We want to do what we have to do to protect our DREAMers and the Temporary Protective Status folks, and end this conversation about who’s sincere about protecting the border, so people can see the other work that we are doing, which is addressing their kitchen-table issues. It’s all about that kitchen table. And now our caucus looks like America — 60 percent of it women, people of color, LGBTQ. Isn’t that a fabulous thing?
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