Nancy Pelosi Airs Some Clean Laundry in 'Power'

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In her new book "Know Your Power," Nancy Pelosi explores the route to becoming the first female speaker of the House, including growing up in Baltimore (where her father and brother both served as mayor), her years organizing in Democratic politics in California and her decision to run for Congress at 47.

You write about your friend, the late Sala Burton, congresswoman from California, who encouraged you to run for her seat in 1987 when she was on her deathbed. . . . The way you write it very much makes it sound like this was something that hadn't crossed your mind before.

Never crossed my mind. . . . I loved public policy and politics, enjoyed it very much. But I enjoyed the part that I played, which was as a volunteer, as the chair of the California Democratic Party. I had five children; they were then all going off to college. I had one daughter at home.

You mentioned what your daughter said.

I was going to be away from home. . . . Monday through Thursday was usually the routine then. I'm a mom, so this would be a departure for me to leave home. So when I presented it to her I said, "Really, either way would be fine with me. You know, I have a wonderful life, and this would be a great opportunity, but again, I'm happy with either decision."

And she said, "Mother, get a life!" [Laughs.] What teenager wouldn't like her mom to be out of town for a few days?

Your mom wanted you to become a nun.

Oh, definitely.

When did she stop pressing that?

She always pressed that. From being a little girl, she would always be talking about how she wanted me to be a nun. . . . It was always something that she thought would be a beautiful life, free from the hardships of life -- and prayerful and making a contribution to society.

My mother was a very devout Catholic. One of my brothers went into the seminary, and oh my, she was as happy as she could be. He didn't stay.

You say she was born 50 years too soon. What do you think she would've been if she'd been born later?

Anything she wanted to be. She was extraordinarily talented. . . . She made an invention of her own, which she had a patent on, and she had a business sense. But the times and my father and just the obligations of family had their limitations for her.

I think if she had been born later . . . she would have maybe still had seven children, but I think she would have been able to follow some of her own pursuits as well.

The thing that she patented was?

Oh, she patented something that was the first patent ever received for applying steam to your face. Her grandmother had given her a formula that you put in and the water boils and steam comes up and it's good for your skin. She had beautiful skin. And it was called Velvex. V-e-l-v-e-x. Which was sort of a modern kind of a name when I think back on it. Velvex. And she was so proud of that, and she called it her brainchild.

But it would have involved travel, and that was completely out of the question.

Not long after you first met Paul Pelosi, but before you started dating or even became friends, he casually asked you if you'd mind picking up his shirts when you went to the cleaners. How did you ever let him live that down?

He has never lived it down! You're reading about it in the book! I think probably I may have gotten his attention that way, because there were a lot of people who would have loved to pick up Paul Pelosi's shirts, but I was not among them. [They met at the house of a mutual friend; she said she'd do him the favor and put his ticket in her pocket, but inadvertently returned from the cleaners with only her own clothes.] I totally forgot the minute I walked out the door, totally forgot -- which I think made an impression on him.

Then later, after we were married, he asked me if I would iron a shirt and that didn't happen, either. . . . I always said, "You know, people make a living doing this and we should support that part of our economy."

You refer to the mystique of the old boys' club [in Congress during the 1980s] as the "Secret Sauce Club."

The men had ruled the roost for such a long time, and they liked that environment. They had this attitude of, "We know how to get this done, and there's a secret sauce to it." They never said it that way, but that's how I heard it: "There's a secret sauce, and you can't possibly know the recipe because we do."

In my view, the goal was not to go there and change their behavior but just to prevail in the debate. . . . You know, once you have a gavel in your hands, everyone knows who the speaker is.

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