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New York Times: Speaker Makes Room for New No. 1 Democrat

By CARL HULSE

WASHINGTON -- When the 111th Congress convenes Tuesday, Representative Nancy Pelosi will return to her post as House speaker but in an entirely new role.

For the last two years, Ms. Pelosi, 68, of California, has been the driving force behind the Democratic Party's ambitions, using her firm grip on the House to set the agenda. Now she finds herself about to become facilitator in chief, working with her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid of Nevada, to advance the ideals of the nation's new No. 1 Democrat: Barack Obama.

Ms. Pelosi said she was more than willing to make room at the top, saying she was overjoyed to be working with a fellow Democrat in the Oval Office after two years of butting heads with President Bush on everything from the war in Iraq to children's health care to overall spending.

“It is for me thrilling to be speaker with a Democrat in the White House. This is what we have worked for for such a long time,” Ms. Pelosi said in an interview. “I feel in a stronger position now. For me, my responsibility as speaker is enormously enhanced by a president whose vision I respect and whose agenda I will help stamp.”

Yet even some Pelosi allies predict the coming months could be an adjustment for a speaker who has relished being in command.

“She has been queen of her castle for quite a while now and the face of the Democratic Party, and I think she is going to want to continue to be at least the co-face as much as possible,” said one longtime senior Congressional official who did not want to be identified talking about the speaker's outlook.

But those close to Ms. Pelosi say she recognizes that the events of the coming months will be crucial in shaping her own legacy as a political leader, giving her a powerful incentive to work hand in hand with the new administration to address the nation's mounting economic problems and the unsettled international situation.

Putting together a string of accomplishments would cement her position as a pivotal Congressional figure, the first woman to be speaker, joining forces with the first black president at a time of national crisis.

“The prestige of someone like Sam Rayburn was really enhanced by the fact that he was able to work with Democratic presidents,” said Ross K. Baker, a Congressional expert at Rutgers University, speaking of the Texan who was House speaker for 17 years. “She is an institutionalist. I think she will defend the prerogatives of the House. But I think she understands that with a Democratic president, the initiative comes from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

And success can only translate into political benefits for the majority she helped build through years of constant fund-raising and campaigning.

“She understands strategically that if we do well, they will do well,” said Rahm Emanuel, the former member of the House Democratic leadership who will be the next White House chief of staff.

The Pelosi-Emanuel nexus looms large. The two built a very close relationship as they mapped the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006, and Ms. Pelosi has looked to Mr. Emanuel for counsel over the last four years. But they both have strong personalities and will have to sort through their new roles and responsibilities in the months ahead.

As for Mr. Obama, Ms. Pelosi considers herself a fervent admirer even though she remained studiously neutral in his primary battle with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. But while she played referee, Ms. Pelosi also took stances at moments that were viewed as beneficial to Mr. Obama, and she sees their cooperation as crucial.

“Few Congresses and few presidents have had the daunting responsibilities that this Congress and president have,” she said. “It is essential that we work together to get as much bipartisan support as possible in our policies as we go forward.”

Aides and advisers say Ms. Pelosi is more than willing to follow Mr. Obama's lead and has already demonstrated a willingness to defer to him even on an issue of high import to her. While Ms. Pelosi has said she would prefer a quick legislative repeal of the Bush administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, she indicated that she would go along if Mr. Obama chooses to act more quickly through executive order.

Yet tensions with the White House -- even a White House run by one's own party -- are inevitable as situations arise where the administration and members of Congress have conflicting priorities. Congressional Democrats and President Bill Clinton struggled at times during the two years that Democrats controlled Congress in the Clinton years. Even President Bush and Congressional Republicans clashed despite the willingness of those on Capitol Hill to give way regularly to the administration.

It is doubtful that Democrats will go as far as Republicans did. “We are an independent branch of government,” Ms. Pelosi said, pointing out that members of Congress have their own views of how to contend with many issues. “The fact is that we have many ideas that will need the signature of the president.”

While she shared leadership responsibilities last session with Mr. Reid, Ms. Pelosi was often the more prominent party voice given Mr. Reid's affinity for the background and the fact that House rules gave her much more leverage in advancing legislation.

Though she and Mr. Reid worked well together, the inability of Senate Democrats to overcome Republican filibusters on House-passed legislation caused some friction between the two chambers. A larger Senate majority should allow Democrats to clear more procedural hurdles this session, easing some of the House frustration.

But Ms. Pelosi's main frustration was clearly with Mr. Bush. Though the two had a cordial personal relationship, their political and policy goals could hardly have been more different, resulting in two years marked by deep differences over the war in Iraq, economic matters and domestic policy. She said she was not sure how she would have responded had Mr. Obama lost.

“This administration has failed on so many scores that it was absolutely essential that this take place,” she said about the Obama victory and his impending presidency. “It is in the interest of every American that he succeed, and that includes the speaker of the House.”