The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Nancy Pelosi conquered the male-dominated world of politics

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is joined by her grandchildren and other House members' children as she takes the oath of office as the 116th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, 2019. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Certain images from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s nearly two decades of leading House Democrats stand out. There is Ms. Pelosi beaming as she called up to the dais all the children who had accompanied their parents to the House chamber, having them stand with her as she reclaimed the speaker’s gavel in 2019. There is Ms. Pelosi in the White House surrounded by male congressional leaders and top military officials as she stood up across the table and pointed her finger toward a stunned President Donald Trump. But the image that perhaps best sums up Ms. Pelosi is the footage of her on Jan. 6, 2021. As insurrectionists besieged the U.S. Capitol, Ms. Pelosi, with calm and quiet authority, made calls to get help and protect members of Congress so they could go back to work.

Doing the hard work of government — often behind the scenes — has defined Ms. Pelosi’s 35 years in Congress, propelling her to become the first female speaker of the House and one of the most consequential House leaders in the country’s history. On Thursday, Ms. Pelosi, 82, announced the end of an era with her decision to step down from Democratic Party leadership to make way for a new generation.

The announcement came a day after Republicans secured control of the House, prompting some critics to say it was easy for her to throw in the towel. But Ms. Pelosi has opted to remain in Congress to continue to represent her California district — unlike House speakers who left Congress when their party lost the majority — and that’s further testament to her lifelong dedication to public service.

Perry Bacon

counterpointNancy Pelosi’s strategies were flawed. Democrats must move on from them.

Ms. Pelosi’s against-all-odds rise to power in the male-dominated world of politics — “from homemaker to House speaker,” in her words — secured her a spot in history. But she burnished it with a string of achievements that included passage of the Affordable Care Act, two major economic bailouts, the Dodd-Frank financial reform, a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a landmark climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act. She presided over the two impeachments of Mr. Trump and helped ensure there would be a full investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Sometimes working with a thin majority, she wielded her office’s power more effectively than any speaker in at least a century.

Ms. Pelosi, of course, was not without fault. She could be tone-deaf; consider her comment that the Affordable Care Act needed to be passed to figure out what was in it. And she presided over an era in which the nation’s stewards failed to right the country’s finances, which are still badly out-of-whack, focusing instead on passing their own pet programs and other spending.

Yet that is true of almost every national leader in recent times. In a profile of Ms. Pelosi when she turned 80, The Post’s Karen Tumulty wrote about the speaker’s discipline, her maturity, her refusal to be intimidated — even as she became the target of Mr. Trump’s bluster and countless Republican attack ads. She has inspired and helped usher into politics countless women. And she set a standard for leadership for which the nation should be grateful and to which others who hold the gavel should aspire.

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