By Jane Mayer
On a recent Friday, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, showed up for her morning power walk along the Potomac. It was nine o'clock, and she had been up for hours. She had read several newspapers. Her lipstick was perfect, her hair was professionally styled, and she had on an impeccable white running jacket over black jogging pants. “This is like noon for me,” she said. Instead of carrying weights when she walks, Pelosi, who is seventy-one, carries an iPhone--and uses it incessantly.
During her forty-five-minute walk, she plans her day, touches base with her staff, makes thank-you calls to donors, and keeps up with overnight developments. “It could be anything from what's happening in Libya to what's happening on Capitol Hill in a very, shall we say, parochial way,” she said. She'd been distracted by a pending “60 Minutes” piece alleging that she did a legislative favor for her husband's business in 2008. She denies the story. Recently, she has been trying to build stamina for the 2012 elections. This year, she has held three hundred and eleven fund-raising events. In September alone, Pelosi and the Democrats raised nearly twice as much money as the Republican House Committee. Her goal is to take back the House, which would require winning back twenty-five seats.
Pelosi barely slowed to breathe as she held forth on the issues of the day, from the World Series (she refused her husband's entreaties to turn off the sixth game and go to sleep) to Occupy Wall Street. “People say, ‘Oh, they don't have a message,' ” she said. “They don't need a message. They're making a statement.” Although she didn't have all the details of a recent clash in Oakland between police officers and protesters that left an Iraq War veteran hospitalized, she expressed disapproval of the police's use of force. “I simply don't understand why they did it,” she said. “It isn't, I don't think, appropriate.”
Pelosi rarely watches television, except for sports, and she hasn't watched any of the Republican Presidential-candidate debates. She believes that Obama is in better shape than the polls indicate. “The Republicans are helping him a lot,” she said. “The extremists--I don't like to even use that word--those Republicans going too far, sort of stir up the Democratic base, and point out the urgency.”
Pelosi's exercise regimen, like her grip on power, has had its ups and downs. Once, she bought a stationary bicycle for her apartment. A friend warned that it would soon be little more than a planter. She insisted that this wasn't so. But then her daughter Alexandra came by and caught her simultaneously pedalling and eating chocolate ice cream out of the carton. “Mother,” Pelosi recalls her daughter saying, “that's not the point!” She laughed. “So I gave up the stationary bike. Now when I come home I hang my purse on it.”
That morning, as she attempted to make her rapid-fire round of political phone calls, she had encountered a technical glitch. “I have a new phone this morning,” she said, holding up a shiny black iPhone 4S, as she marched along the waterfront. “But I've had the craziest experience with it.” Every time she tried to call her press secretary, Drew Hammill, she said, “I'd get Jon Kyl,” the conservative Republican senator from Arizona.
“So I call,” she went on, “and they say, ‘Office of Senator Jon Kyl,' and I say, ‘I'm sorry--what did you say?' ” She apologized, hung up, and redialled her aide. Sure enough, once again someone answered, “Office of Senator Jon Kyl.”
Could the mixup have been a signal from on high that, in this moment of extreme partisan divisiveness, it's time for two of the most outspoken leaders of their respective parties to cross lines and make amends or, at least, to sit down for a cup of coffee? Or was it just the result of a hapless staffer screwing up while programming the Leader's new phone? Either way, Pelosi suggested, it was perhaps not the best time to cozy up to the opposition.
“Of course, Jon Kyl is my friend,” she added quickly and diplomatically, “so I wouldn't mind chatting with him. But it was”--she paused, searching for the right words--“a little early.”