By JOEL CONNELLY
HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi woke up Thursday to 'Impeach Bush!' pickets outside her Washington, D.C., home, but chose to spend the day assembling a veto-proof House majority to extend unemployment benefits.
Once derided as a 'San Francisco liberal' by the Republican attack machine, the Democratic speaker lately finds herself taking heat from activists on the left for whom practicality is heresy.
Pelosi is due in Seattle on Friday for a tour of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. She talked Thursday by phone with the Seattle P-I.
Pelosi said that she has a 'very candid' and good person-to-person relationship with President Bush, although they represent political polar opposites.
'My opposition to him is not personal, but I oppose his positions vehemently,' she said. 'By and large, I think his presidency has harmed our country greatly -- with the war, the deficit, the economic downturn and the continuous assaults on the Constitution.'
Would-be impeachers are a noisy presence at California Democratic Party conventions. One of the House's noisiest Democrats -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio -- has lately pushed the issue onto the House floor. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee, to expire along with the administration.
'I don't think impeaching the Bush-Cheney administration is worth it,' Pelosi said. 'It would be very divisive for the country, and not possible to achieve. It's better to spend our energies raising the minimum wage, passing legislation supporting our veterans and trying to reduce carbon emissions.'
Republicans suffered a stunning midterm election defeat in 1998 as a House impeachment investigation against President Clinton became a partisan witch hunt. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced out in a coup by fellow GOP lawmakers.
Pelosi is the first woman elected speaker of the House, the highest position in American politics ever held by a member of her gender.
Gender has lately been a hot topic in American politics, as backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton have alleged that her campaign was the victim of media bias and sexism.
The controversy has continued. On Wednesday, the right-slanted Fox News Channel identified Michelle Obama as 'Obama's baby mama' -- slang for a woman who has a baby without a romantic relationship or marriage -- with Chris Matthews on MSNBC intoning that 'Women are low-hanging fruit in terms of politics.'
Pelosi would rather dwell on the gains than the pains.
'Hillary Clinton's candidacy was a source of pride to every woman in America,' she said. 'She demonstrated eloquence, knowledge and stamina. She has taken the issue of women in politics to a whole new ground.'
Is there a double standard? In a positive way, Pelosi answered.
'There is a tremendous upside to women in politics, that they represent what is new and change,' she added. 'There is the other side. Some people are not ready for that change. But women have made the upside.'
As she flies out to the 'Left Coast,' Pelosi will be visiting a part of America with higher-than-average gasoline prices.
Congress has wrangled in recent days. The country has fumed.
Efforts to impose an excess profits tax on big oil were blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Another filibuster thwarted legislation designed to reduce America's emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The lone success was forcing a halt to the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
'The Bush administration's policy is to drill and veto,' Pelosi said. 'We have put so much legislation over to the Senate, in hopes it will not be talked to death or vetoed.
'There are 68 million acres in America where oil and gas companies have bought the right to drill. ... Millions of these acres are places where environmental rights have been met. They are just sitting on them.'
Pelosi took strong exception to the administration's unceasing calls to drill in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
'They want to use the excuse that we are not drilling ANWR as an excuse for high oil prices, but price is a product of speculation and manipulation. Even by their own standards, drilling in ANWR by the year 2030 would save 1 penny off the price per gallon.'
'Instead, let's investigate and prosecute the speculation and manipulation. Give the Department of Justice the power to prosecute price speculation.'
A final point, she noted: Soaring oil prices have occurred on the watch of 'two oilmen in the White House.'
By contrast, Pelosi was proud and upbeat on what Congress has done for veterans.
'When we took control (in 2007) we delivered an independent veterans budget, the biggest increase in benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. We have made this a flagship issue.'
Both houses of Congress have recently passed a 21st century GI Bill of Rights, guaranteeing Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans education benefits equivalent to those received by their World War II counterparts.
'I hope the president will not veto it,' Pelosi said.
Reps. Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks, D-Wash., will join Pelosi on her veterans hospital tour. The lawmakers will then do a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser, hoping to boost 8th District House hopeful Darcy Burner.