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Bloomberg: Pelosi Gathers Power, Sets Party to Gain House Seats

By Laura Litvan

May 8 (Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's party couldn't bring troops home from Iraq and Congress's public approval ratings are near a record low. Still, the California lawmaker has emerged as the most powerful Democratic House leader since Tip O'Neill.

In recent months, Pelosi, 68, has dominated the House and is poised to lead Democrats to an expanded majority in this fall's elections. She has thwarted President George W. Bush's push for a trade agreement with Colombia and blocked a measure to end wiretapping lawsuits against phone companies that he supported. She also is delaying decisions on major spending bills until next year, when a Democrat may be in the White House.

``She's consolidating her power,'' said House Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, 68, a fellow California Democrat.

While Republicans have dubbed her ``Czar Nancy'' for her tactics, they also say she is effective. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, 59, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Pelosi is polarizing, though she is also a ``smart, hardball operator.''

Pelosi's ability to bring her members together is likely to help her party add to its 36-seat majority in November, even after a divisive Democratic presidential primary. Charlie Cook, editor of the Washington-based nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Democrats may pick up as many as 10 House seats.

`Won-Lost Average'

``Pelosi's doing what she has to do,'' said Representative Tom Davis, 59, a Virginia Republican. ``A leader's report card is re-electing members; it's like share price for a CEO or won-lost average for a baseball manager.''

House Republican leaders say she shuts them out of the process. They used delaying tactics yesterday, preventing House action on housing foreclosure legislation to protest her refusal to let them amend that and a pending Iraq War spending bill.

During an angry exchange on the floor, House Republican Leader John Boehner shouted that ``the majority has an obligation to treat the minority with respect.''

Democrats said her clout results from her success in being inclusive with those in her party.

Representative Elijah Cummings, 57, a Maryland Democrat who is a member of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Pelosi had met with him at least six times this year. Representative Allen Boyd of Florida, a leader of the ``Blue Dog Coalition'' of conservative Democrats, said she consulted him about energy legislation, a farm bill, and other measures.

``I've been on the other side of every leadership race she's ever been in, but I've become a Nancy Pelosi fan,'' said Boyd, 62.

Series of Setbacks

Pelosi had a series of setbacks last year, even as she muscled through several bipartisan measures, including an increase in the federal minimum wage.

Bush, 61, blocked her attempts to tie further funding for the Iraq war to troop withdrawals and to boost domestic spending above his requests. She was also criticized for traveling to Syria over his objections.

The lack of progress on the war has eroded the public's opinion of Congress. An April 25-29 New York Times/CBS News survey found approval ratings for Congress were just 21 percent, while Bush's were at 28 percent.

At the same time, though, voters said they would prefer to elect Democrats. The poll found 50 percent of Americans prefer the Democratic candidate in their district, while 32 percent favor the Republican.

Party Backs Her

Part of the Democrats' appeal may stem from Pelosi's skill in holding her party together like no other leader. In 2007, House Democrats backed their speaker on a record 92 percent of votes involving measures where the parties held opposing positions, according to Congressional Quarterly.

While she has selectively worked with the administration -- helping Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson craft an economic stimulus package in February -- her confidence in taking on Bush has grown as Democrats backed her on controversial legislation this spring.

``Who has the leverage?'' she said in April. ``I think the president realizes now that we do.''

In March, all but three House Democrats supported her push for legislation allowing intelligence agencies to intercept suspected terrorists' phone calls that didn't include Bush's demand to end lawsuits against telecommunications companies. Democrats from Republican-leaning districts faced a barrage of Republican attack ads.

Defying Bush

In April, defying Bush's call for Congress to ratify a free- trade agreement with Colombia, she persuaded Democrats to change House rules and delay a vote, allowing her party to avoid an election-year trade battle.

Pelosi is now working to sidestep more spending battles with Bush. She is planning to postpone debate over setting next year's government budget until a new administration takes office in January. She also is dropping earlier plans to append a large package of domestic initiatives, including new highway funding, to Bush's request for $108 billion for the war. Instead, she plans to include the items in a new economic-stimulus measure.

Pelosi concentrates on battles she can win, said John Fortier, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization that generally favors Republican policies.

``She has shown a toughness, and these are issues where it could matter,'' he said.

Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a ``Blue Dog'' Democrat, said Pelosi has solicited his group's views and avoided votes on some social policies that would make his colleagues in Republican-leaning districts vulnerable.

Her approach belies the ``San Francisco liberal'' label Republicans have attached to her, he said.

``Governing is a lot different than guerrilla warfare,'' said Cooper, 53. ``She's made the transition well.''