Pelosi for House minority leader: A bad idea or just what the Democrats need?

As Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) leaves her post as speaker of the House, here's a look back at her most memorable moments.
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 11:25 AM

Two nights after the midterm elections, New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews saw a voice mail on his cellphone from the soon-to-be-former speaker of the House.

Andrews had a pretty good hunch what Nancy Pelosi wanted to talk about. So when he called her back the next morning, he got right to the point.

"I preempted it," he recalled. "I said, 'I hope you run.' "

Pelosi's decision to hang on as leader of the House Democrats has surprised and confounded much of Washington, including many in her own party. But if it is looked at through the windshield of what lies ahead, rather than the rearview mirror of the midterm election campaign, many argue, her skills as legislator and fundraiser are what's needed now.

"There are serious issues. There are serious challenges," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a close ally of Pelosi's. "Her talents are unique."

As are her liabilities. No figure in politics today is as toxic as Pelosi, if her starring role in thousands of Republican ads this year is any indication. Her favorable rating in recent polls has been below 30 percent.

The cleansing rites that follow political upheavals in Washington have generally demanded a human sacrifice from the losing side. It has also come to be expected that the speaker of the House should be the one offered up.

Not since Tip O'Neill retired in 1987, now five speakers ago, has there been a graceful and voluntary exit from the big chair at the front of the House chamber. Everyone since, whether giving up the gavel in electoral defeat or scandal, has done the expected thing and disappeared from the Capitol.

With the party losing at least 60 seats, about two dozen House Democrats have made public comments indicating they would rather see someone else in charge of their caucus.

Among the defectors have been such former Pelosi stalwarts as Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), whom she tapped to manage her transition team when Democrats won control of the House four years ago.

"If the Red Sox came in and lost every game of the year and they kept the manager at the end of the year, that's a problem,'' Capuano told the Boston Globe. "That's what we seem to be on the verge of doing."

Yet there are others who argue, just as strenuously, that Pelosi is irreplaceable.

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