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Smile, Though Your Head Is Aching

Steny Hoyer, left, is not affiliated with the Nancy Pelosi School of Smiling.
Steny Hoyer, left, is not affiliated with the Nancy Pelosi School of Smiling. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

"What do you see as your greatest mistake?" asked one reporter.

Pelosi smiled. "Why don't you tell me?" she proposed. She smiled again, then laughed. " 'Cause I think we're doing just great." She laughed again.

Even those approval ratings for Congress, in the teens and 20s, didn't evoke regrets. "I don't like the numbers for Congress," she admitted, but "I'm very pleased with the Democratic numbers." She then took an unusual detour into polling minutiae. "Today the Rasmussen numbers were the third time that we were double-digit ahead in the generic," she reported, "and the third month in a row we were in the high 40s."

Holders of high office typically avoid discussions like that because it makes them look, well, political. But Pelosi did not hesitate to plunge into the political, explaining that "it was so important for us to bring the president's numbers down two years ago on Social Security" because it discouraged Republican candidates from running for Congress.

Pelosi may have realized that her words sounded too calculating, for at one point she begged the reporters' indulgence for her to "be allowed a partisan moment." She smiled at her joke, then chuckled.

The ready grin seemed at odds with other body language that suggested Pelosi was not having an enjoyable lunch. She ignored her salad and roll, then waved off the chicken and vegetables and left her dessert untouched. "The tea is fine," she told the waiter, taking her first sip more than halfway through the lunch.

But the smile had its uses. She smiled warmly while telling a reporter in the room that his story was completely wrong. She laughed heartily when somebody mentioned the awkward interview in which Whoopi Goldberg expressed a lust for Pelosi's husband. She grinned when mentioning the fight over children's health care. And she laughed while discussing how she has "striven" to work with Bush on Iraq. "Is that a word? 'Striven'? " she asked.

It seemed that only the antiwar advocates had the power to wipe the smile off Pelosi's face. Speaking about ethics legislation, she boasted that "we have drained the swamp" in Congress and pleased government watchdog groups. "At last," she added, "some advocates from the outside who are satisfied."

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