Opinion The Backstory: Nancy Pelosi's No. 1 lesson on power: 'Nobody's going to give it to you. You've got to take it.'
Exclusive: How Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi pushed Barack Obama to go big on health care
First Pelosi cut off the exits that opened to a smaller White House bill. Then Kennedy wrote a dying letter to bolster Obama's boldest goals.The morning after Republican Scott Brown unexpectedly won the 2010 special election election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, President Obama called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a pivotal and private conversation that wasn’t disclosed.
I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week,
"No one's going to give you power. You have to seize it." That's a lesson Nancy Pelosi's father taught her, and a top takeaway from Pelosi's own career, says Susan Page, USA TODAY Washington Bureau chief.
Page interviewed House Speaker Pelosi 10 times during the past two years for her biography, "," out April 20. She also spoke with 150 others close to the speaker.
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This week, we ran exclusive excerpts from the book focusing on(she had considered retiring in 2016) and how
"When people come to her and say, you know, 'Give me power,' or 'Should I run?' this is the advice that she's given over the years," Page says. "'Nobody's going to give it to you. You've got to take it.'"
Pelosi's father challenged a long-term incumbent Democrat in a primary to take his seat as a U.S. representative from Maryland. Pelosi, D-Md., for the House Democratic whip role in 2001, Page says, "at a time that was considered quite 'how dare she.'"
Transcript: Nancy Pelosi on "Face the Nation"
The following is a transcript of an interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that aired Sunday, April 11, 2021, on "Face the Nation."MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She joins us from Capitol Hill. Good morning, Madam Speaker.
Page starting thinking of writing a Pelosi biography as she was finishing her last book, on the
"She had the two things I wanted," Page says about Pelosi. "She had been consequential. She'd done things and she had been unrecognized or underestimated."
Page rattles off some of Pelosi's accomplishments: "She was the highest ranking person in Congress tofrom the start. She was the on human rights issues. She personally pushed through the that probably prevented another Great Depression. She is responsible for the . Obama deserves credit, too, but it wouldn't have happened (without her). And she became the top Democratic counterpoint to the most disruptive president in American history."
And that was the lesson of the book for Page. "Some people think Pelosi is prominent because she's the most powerful woman in American history. I think Pelosi is important because she's one of the most powerful people in American history."
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But Page is also quick to point out that Pelosi is not perfect. There will be things in the book that Pelosi will not like.
"It quotes people who say she did a lot for the Republicans because she was wildly ideological and it talks about her comfort with big money," Page says. "And the way in which her leadership contributed to our hyperpartisanship. It's not responsible for it, but she has been part of it an
"The book does not make a case that she's great or not great. It makes the case that she's been important."
Pelosi's lesson for power, "Take it," is exactly what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did in challenging a 10-term incumbent to win her seat representing Queens and the Bronx. Ocasio-Cortez and other new female members, "the Squad," began pushing the speaker on progressive causes.
Page sat down with Pelosi the afternoon of a Twitter blow up with the Squad, particularly Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff who said his boss was better at leading than Pelosi.
Page says "she was still wound tight" as the interview began.
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Page makes it clear Pelosi didn't fault Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad for being passionate about causes, "but she had little use for those who weren't 'operational,' a word that was the highest praise she could give a politician."
"They'll understand when they have something they want to pass," Pelosi told Page. "If you don't want any results, you don't ever have to do anything. But if you have something that you want to pass, you're better off not having your chief of staff send out a tweet in the manner in which that was sent out. Totally inappropriate.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Two weeks later, Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortezand the chief of staff moved to a progressive think tank.
The speaker is guarded and disciplined in her interviews, Page says, but she did share some untold stories, like the backstory of why she tore up Trump's State of the Union speech.
"The problem that she couldn't find a pen and there was supposed to be a pen in the little desk. And there was no pen there," Page says. "And he said something in the text that she thought was wrong and she wanted to remember it. So she tore a little piece of it. And then she kept tearing a little piece of it because she kept finding things that she thought were wrong and she wanted to remember them.
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"And by the end of it, there were so many tears in the speech. And she said, I might as well just tear this up."
It didn't start as the, Page says, it began as "where's my pen?"
Page says the interviews lasted about an hour each, and often happened on consequential days, such as the first day of impeachment hearings or the day of the blow up with Squad. Even then, the speaker kept her appointments.
And while Pelosi was cooperative, she had limits. Page asked Pelosi if she would give her approval to release her high school and college transcripts. She had asked the same of Barbara Bush.
"When I asked Barbara Bush for a transcript, she thought this was hilarious and immediately wrote a letter saying, 'Although I fear she'll be disappointed, I give Susan Page permission to read my high school transcripts." When I asked Pelosi that, she just looked like 'How could you possibly think I would let you see that?' although in high school and in college, everyone said she was a model student."
The most surprising finding for Page was learning about the influence of Pelosi's mother, the ambitious, larger-than-life "Big Nancy," often overlooked because of the shadow of Pelosi's well-known political father.
Pelosi was the youngest child, a girl after five boys. Her mother encouraged her to be a nun, Page says. "And Nancy at a very young age said, 'I don't think I want to be a nun. I might be interested in being a priest.' Because the priests of course are in charge."
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And that is the reason the book is subtitled "the lessons of power," Page says. Early drafts were titled the "arc" of power and the "tests" of power. Those names are crossed out on a white board behind her home office desk.
"Nancy Pelosi is incredibly comfortable with power in a way that very few people are. And especially very few women are, especially of her generation," Page says. "She's comfortable with that because she grew up in this home that had tremendous power in it. And that goes to both the father and the mother."
Page plans to do a third book but has "no idea" on whom. She'd like it to be someone who made a difference but whose story has not been fully told.
"I'm not just," she says laughing. "I'm eager."
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Pelosi floats new proposal for bipartisan Jan. 6 commission .
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is renewing her push for a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, floating a new proposal to Republicans that would evenly split the panel's membership between the two parties. Pelosi first proposed a commission in February that would have had four Republicans and seven Democrats to “conduct an investigation of the relevant facts and circumstances relating to the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol." Republicans rejected it as inadequate.