She's the highest-ranking woman official in U.S. history -- the first female speaker of the House of Representatives and second in line to the presidency. But Nancy Pelosi says none of that tops being a mother and grandmother. The California Democrat, whose father was mayor of Baltimore when she was growing up, sat down recently with KidsPost's Marylou Tousignant and Brenna Maloney to talk about her remarkable life.
What does the speaker do?
'The speaker of the House has the power to do two main things: to set the agenda for the floor of the House of Representatives, in terms of what legislation can come to the floor, and to appoint members of Congress to committees. The speaker calls the House to order, brings up a schedule of legislation . . . and has the power of [deciding] whom to recognize for debate.'
What's the hardest part of the job?
'The days where we . . . debate over the funding of the war in Iraq. . . . It's a big responsibility to send our men and women into war and then to talk about how the funds will be used.'
And what's the best part? The view of the Mall from your office is pretty cool.
'I always say, 'It's a beautiful view, but not as beautiful as the view from the [speaker's] podium.'
'Here's the thing: I'm a mom and a grandma. I have five children and seven grandchildren. My role in politics I view as a continuation of my role as a mom. So my agenda . . . is a children's agenda: What is it that we are doing to make the future better for the children, whether it's their . . . health, their education, the economic security of their families, a clean environment in which they can thrive, a world at peace.'
What does it mean to be the first female speaker?
'It's very big. The communications that I received from all over the world were very telling. Of course I heard from women and girls about how excited they were. Older women my age who said, 'I never thought I'd see the day.' Young girls who say, 'Now I can do anything!' . . . Fathers who were so proud of what the prospects would be for their daughters now that this marble ceiling had been broken.
'What is means for me to be the speaker is that members of Congress view a woman with power in the Congress. . . . For men here, who are very powerful, to have to take the lead of a woman with more power is a real change. '
Growing up, what did you want to be?
'I took life as it came along. I enjoyed being a little girl and playing with my friends. I loved being a teenager. . . . And then when I went away to college, I loved that. . . .
'Although I was a normal child and teenager, I still had serious responsibilities at home to help with people who would call who needed help, who needed food, who needed a job, who needed housing. . . . My father was mayor from when I was in first grade to when I went away to college, so we all had our responsibilities to courteously respond to the needs of the people of Baltimore.'
Did that make you want to go into politics?
'No. I didn't ever think of it, [though] I loved the issues. . . . I liked the excitement of campaigns, but I never thought of it for me. Never. It was just one of those things that, as time went by, one thing led to another.'
What was life like with five older brothers?
'It was great. I highly recommend it. I had to hold my own because they were very protective. I liked my independence, so I had to assert that from time to time. We used to have an MYOB club -- Mind Your Own Beeswax -- because they were always asking, 'Where are you going? Who are you going with?' 'MYOB!' '
How did they react to your being elected speaker?
'My colleagues said, 'Your parents would be so proud. Your family would be so proud.' It jarred me a bit because my parents didn't raise me to be speaker, or even to run for office. They raised me to be holy and good -- that was their measure of success.
'So my brothers were thrilled, but they were thrilled with whatever each of us did. . . . They knew that the highlight of my life [was] being a mom. . . . That was the main event. This is what I'm doing now that I'm done with my life's work.'
This is your fallback job?
'Well, I never set out to do it, [but] it is thrilling to be the first woman speaker. And I stand on the shoulders of so many other women over the years -- from the suffragettes to the women over the course of time who worked hard for women to succeed, whatever their plan, including staying home to take care of their children. And I view my role as an enormous responsibility to the women who come after me.'
What about being a mother gives you particular strength or perspective for the job you have now?
'My focus is very clear: It's on the future and what is our responsibility to our children. It's not just as a mom, though. It's in the tradition of America: a commitment to the future, to the American dream, that every generation has a responsibility to make things better for the next generation.'
What do you do for fun?
'I eat chocolate ice cream. I do the crossword puzzles. I like to walk.'
Do you read KidsPost?
'I really do! I wish there was something like it when I was a child. [Kids are] the leaders of tomorrow. This is their future. And they have to know -- it's important to know things. To get in the habit of reading the newspaper is very important.'