‘I came here to do a job’
“If I were not effective, if I hadn’t passed health care and Wall Street [regulatory overhaul] and the rest, I would not have been the target that I was,” she said. “I came here to do a job. I didn’t come here to keep a job.”
But if Pelosi wears her scars as a badge of honor, her closest allies don’t hide their feelings of grievance on her behalf. In their view, their party — and their president — should have done a better job defending a speaker who had delivered so much.
“It was a wide-open season on her,” Miller said. “A lesser person would not have survived with the ability to rally her caucus and move forward. Given her accomplishments and what she achieved, from the president on down, people could have done something.”
Pelosi conveys no grudges.
“I have absolutely no problem with my relations with the White House,” she said. “I have complete access on any subject that I want to talk to them about. I understand why they have to do certain things, and they understand why I have to do certain things. We give each other room.”
The main reason she stayed as leader, Pelosi said, was to protect her caucus’s accomplishments — chiefly, the passage of health-care overhaul — from Republican efforts to dismantle them. But Pelosi was also mindful of the signal it might have sent to other women if she had quit.
“It’s important to me that women young in politics — they’re coming out of the kitchen as I did — are not deterred because of sexism or chauvinism [or the idea that] you can say or do anything about a woman and people will believe it,” she said.
Pelosi remains popular with the party’s liberal base, perhaps even more so amid anxiety that the president is tacking centrist to gird for a tough reelection fight.
After her announcement in December that she intended to remain as leader of her battered party in the minority, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised a record $1 million in three weeks, said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), whom Pelosi recruited to take over the committee.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job unless she was the Democratic leader,” Israel said, adding that he and Pelosi talk by phone at least two or three times a day, including on weekends.
A punishing schedule
At 71, she maintains a punishing schedule: She has done 129 fundraisers in two dozen cities since the election, bringing in nearly $11 million for House Democrats.
In the first quarter, the out-of-power House Democrats’ campaign committee hauled in a record $19.6 million and outraised its Republican counterpart by $1.6 million. In April and May, however, House Democrats fell behind the GOP. The challenge is likely to grow as the election season kicks into gear and they are forced to compete with the presidential reelection campaign and Senate Democrats, whose majority is in danger.
When Congress is in session, Pelosi frequently hosts breakfasts and dinners in Washington for major donors. Many lunch hours find her a few blocks away from the Capitol in a conference room at the DCCC headquarters, where she has aides dialing two phones at once.
Pelosi has become a big fan of social networking as a political tool — and is working to make herself more tech-savvy as well.
In February, she got her first iPhone and followed that with the purchase of an iPad. Although her favorite use for it is viewing pictures of her grandchildren, she has been known to play a game or two of Angry Birds.
She recently urged her members to get the word out through Twitter on the Republican Medicare plan. “What does a 500-lb. canary say? Tweeeeet!” she told a reporter, flapping her arms.
Pelosi grew up in politics as the daughter of the mayor of Baltimore, and she has been building and nurturing her network of supporters since her days as a wealthy housewife and Democratic activist in San Francisco. She makes a point of getting in touch on their birthdays and their children’s graduations.
She knows which donors want to talk politics and which Middle East policy. Every August, she hosts a two-day “issues conference” in Napa Valley, bringing together high-dollar contributors for briefings with leading Democratic officials and experts, including economists; when she discovered that this year’s gathering would conflict with the wedding of a longtime donor’s daughter, she moved the date to July.
Still, Pelosi argued, “the reason I’m successful at what I do in terms of fundraising is I really believe in something. It’s not just about having a Rolodex. It’s about the case that you make.”