Washington, D.C. - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi participated in a conversation moderated by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and hosted by the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum and the National Women's History Museum today celebrating her achievements over 25 years in Congress. Below is a transcript of the event:
Ms. Harrington. Good afternoon. So delighted to have everyone with us today. I'm Page Harrington, Executive Director of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum and I'm so pleased to welcome you to the fifth and final headquarters of the historic National Women's Party. We have numerous Members of Congress with us today that I would like to recognize. Some of them are here already and others will be making their way here shortly. We have Representative Karen Bass, Representative Susan Davis, Representative Anna Eshoo, Representative Barbara Lee, Representative Doris Matsui, Representative Jackie Speier, and Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard will also be joining us today.
If anyone is tweeting we're using the hashtag ‘WMNHIST' for women's history and one quick announcement, I'm sorry to say that Michelle Bernard has been called away for a family emergency. So she won't be able to join us here today.
I'll start with a very special thank you to our friends and underwriters for today's program. Peter and Judy Kolver, thank you so much. On behalf of our partnership with the National Women's History Museum we're honored to host this celebration for the first female Speaker of the House and current Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi.
Leader Pelosi has worked diligently to strengthen America's middle class, increasing the minimum wage and financial aid for students, a new G.I. education bill for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, increased services for veterans, their families, and their caregivers, which is so important. Nationally and internationally, she has led the effort to provide the first U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Leader Pelosi's work on behalf of women is unparalleled. Her leadership in passing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Her work as a champion for women's health, Social Security, Title IX, economic wellbeing for women everywhere - she has impacted the lives of every person in this tent and every woman globally.
As Speaker she has created new leadership opportunities for the next generation of American women, ensuring a record number of Committee Chairmanships are being held by women, electing more women to Congress and opening the doors for other women remain among her top priorities. So it is particularly fitting that we recognize Leader Pelosi today in this very historic house and garden where generations of women have fought tirelessly for women's rights.
In 1929, Alice Paul and the NWP moved into this building after securing the right to vote for American women. And until the 1970s it was used as both their home and their workplace. From the beginning, this house operated as a center for women's political thought and feminist activity, and served as a base for them to lobby Congress. Over the course of many decades, the occupants of this house authored more than 600 pieces of federal, state, and local legislation, 300 of which were ultimately passed, and all of which greatly impacted the lives of women.
Since the late 1990s, and now operating as the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, we continue this vital work by sharing their history and convening conversations about continued equality. Through programs like this we continue to empower women by teaching women. Teaching women to demand their rights, to take on new leadership roles, and to recruit more women to run for Congress. The Emmy Award-winning Rachel Maddow show, I know, is popular with everyone, and we're delighted to honor Leader Pelosi and have Rachel Maddow with us today. It's a long line of continuing the tradition of honoring women who work on issues that are important for women around the globe.
We were proud to honor Leader Pelosi with our annual Alice Award in 2010 and this September we will honor former First Lady Laura Bush.
So today let's talk about Leader Pelosi and Rachel Maddow. The Rachel Maddow show was the most successful launch in MSNBC history, immediately boosting ratings in its time period when it debuted in September 2008. Maddow was also named a breakout start of 2008 by the Washington Post and one of the top-10 political newcomers by POLITICO.com. Maddow is the author of Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, which debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Sellers List this past March. And we're delighted to welcome both of them.
On behalf of my Board of Directors and colleagues at the National Women's History Museum, thank you for being here. Please help me welcome Leader Pelosi and Rachel Maddow.
Ms. Maddow. Wow, thank you all so, so much for being here. I'm used to talking to people but never seeing their faces.
So, I'm going to start with admitting my own bias here in the sense of fairness, which is all sort of admitting my, I guess my concurrent interest. You're the Member of Congress for my brother. My parents were married in the chapel at the Presidio, which my father was a Captain in the Air Force, and when it ceased to be a military base, you are the reason it was returned to the people of the State of California and the City of San Francisco for their use.
When I lived in San Francisco you were my Member of Congress. And, as a gay kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ‘80s, amid the devastation of the AIDS crisis - coming of age and realizing I was a gay person at the time of the AIDS crisis, it's almost an unimaginable context for somebody growing up. When you first went to Congress in June of 1987, and in your first remarks as a Member of Congress said that you were there to fight AIDS, for me as a gay person, as a caretaker for people with AIDS, as an AIDS activist, you became the person who all of us believed that, no matter where we lived anywhere in the country, that you were our Member of Congress.
So, thank you.
Leader Pelosi. That's nice, very nice. Thank you.
Ms. Maddow. Twenty-five years in Congress. You're the most powerful woman in American politics ever. You've cracked what you call the ‘marble ceiling,' and I wondered if you could describe how the marble ceiling works, and how it works more poorly now that you have cracked it.
Leader Pelosi. Well, first of all Rachel, thank you for your very kind introductory remarks, for honoring us with your presence here today. I couldn't wait to get here to see Rachel Maddow and that your connection to San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Area, the Presidio - the heart of San Francisco - is one that we take great pride in, brag about, exaggerate and, again, we're just so proud of you. If my voice is changing its because there is like an air conditioning here that comes on and off. But I want to thank [the] Sewall-Belmont House and Museum for giving us this opportunity to come together to talk about issues that are of concern to women in America and that includes everything, and as Rachel has demonstrated, that even includes the national security of our country. Congratulations on your book. It's very important that women's faces of opinion and leadership are there.
So it is an excitement to be here. And the HIV/AIDS issue is one that I feel personal responsibility for, coming from San Francisco 25 years ago. Well, actually, that comment that I made on the floor of the House will be Saturday, I was elected last Saturday, well it wasn't a Saturday at the time and this coming Saturday will be the day that I was sworn-in. And when I talked about AIDS, after my comments were over, my colleagues said: “why did you say that?” I said: “well, what are you talking about?” They said: “why would you want to be - the first thing that they know about you is that you are here to talk about AIDS.” I said: “well I said it for a simple reason: because I am and that is what I told my constituents I would do and that is my responsibility.” Here we are 25 years later, I never would have thought Rachel, at that time that projecting 25 years forward, we still would not have a cure. We've made great progress improving and maintaining the quality of life and ending discrimination, doing those kinds of things, but prevention and care and research and the rest, we still have so much work to do. Twenty-five years.
But science is our friend and that's an answer to our prayers. So, in any event, thank you for acknowledging the AIDS/HIV work. But Page Harrington, and all of you, thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to chat today.
Ms. Maddow. On the issue of AIDS, just taking that as an example about how politics has changed, talk about the reaction to your initial comments, when [they] said, essentially, ‘how dare you bring that up on your first day, and how everybody knows you're going to want to work on that.' You think about the comments at the time, or the lack of interest, the lack of stated interest from President Reagan at the time, the hostility from conservative figures like Jesse Helms over the issues of AIDS, then by the end of Jesse Helms' career, he was talking with Bono about doing - about doing, not only changing his attitude towards AIDS in the United States but supporting American investment in that subject around the globe. You look at the contrast of Ronald Reagan and his willful disregard of the issue in the ‘80s, you fast-forward to his Vice President's son, George W. Bush, so conservative on so many other issues as President but yet, he led on the issue of PEPFAR. On these social conservative issues can you imagine, whether it's gay rights, whether it's abortion, whether it is women's reproductive health more broadly - any of these others issues on which we are so polarized now; can you imagine a similar transformation happening in any of the conservative figures?
Leader Pelosi. Oh yes, I do. I always say: “to us it is inevitable, to them it is inconceivable.” It is our job to shorten the distance between inevitable and inconceivable. But it takes, not only our work inside to maneuver and persuade, the outside mobilization is absolutely essential. In almost every issue that you can name, the American people are ahead of the elected officials. And you mention Bono, yesterday I had the privilege of being in New York City with some of my colleagues, with Bono who honored me on my 25th anniversary, he and Richard Gere, it was good.
But both of them had worked on the AIDS issue and actually we started working with Bono on the debt-forgiveness issue, the Millennium Challenge, the Jubilee Year to end the debt that so many countries were oppressed with - poor countries in the world and that [was] the initiation of communication with Jesse Helms - was on the debt forgiveness and was, you know, we said to Bono when he first came to us: “you have to be bipartisan, you're going to have to reach out to some of these people.” Next thing you know, Jesse Helms is at a U2 concert. But it did take, as I said to him: “you're triple A, you had the access, you created the awareness among a broader audience as a rock star with a young following, and you took action, and that's how we moved this. So it took a lot of convincing people on the merits of the path we would follow. It took a lot of outside mobilization to get it done and that's exactly what will happen. We saw that with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. You see now in the marriage equality, where the recent, as recent as today, the polling is very different then it would have been even a short while ago, and I have confidence in young people because they're free of some of the burdens that an older generation has about some of these cultural issues. And that's why I'm so proud of President Obama because, from day one was ending discrimination in the workplace for women, Lilly Ledbetter, and almost the last bill that he passed, the other book end too, was the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and in between, many other pieces of legislation that was liberating for people. And, again, as I said, I think the public is way ahead of elected officials in this regard.
Ms. Maddow. You have been able to talk in a way that I think has very much energized Democrats about the connection between policy and social justice. Like you just were. Policy and important outcomes for the country. One of the policy fights that you won, which I think had profound political impact that doesn't get a lot of attention when people talk about your rise to power as Speaker, was right after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, he was reelected in November 2004, as soon as he was inaugurated in January 2005, he set out around the country on a barnstorming tour to privatize Social Security.
Leader Pelosi. That went great.
Ms. Maddow. But when he started to [do] this, he thought he was going to win, and poll numbers looked good. And you were a key part of, what I think has to be universally acknowledged as a Democratic defeat of that Republican initiative. How did you beat George W. Bush on that subject?
Leader Pelosi. Well, it was a decision that we made that we were going to preserve Social Security. I mean this is a pillar of our society, of retirement security, security for our seniors, and all that that meant to the rest of the family. And so, when I had the opportunity to become a leader, of course it was my goal to attain the majority and we went to some people on the outside, to the private sector and said: “if you were,” I don't know any of these things, but if you were, say, Tylenol, and you wanted to be Advil, I don't know which one is first, but if you were number two and you wanted to be number one, what would you do? And they told us, you have to have a four-step initiative of how we'll do that - it'll take long, but if you want me to, I'll go into it - but anyway, the point being that was, say, December, after Senator Kerry had lost the Presidential. That January, President Bush gave a gift to those who wanted to protect Social Security by saying that he was going to privatize Social Security. I remind you he's newly elected, he's 58 percent in the polls, that's very high, especially after a tough fight and he was very much up here. And our Members, working with Leader Reid in the Senate, with our Members, House and Senate, we decided that we were going to go out there to do this but we had to be unified. It took discipline and I think you may recall, Rachel, that at the time we made a decision, I know the Kolvers who are our hosts today - thank you Judy and Peter they were so much a part of helping us with this. At the time we said: “President Bush wants to privatize Social Security, the Democrats want to preserve Social Security.” And that was the fight.
Social Security, privatize. But people said: “oh why don't you have a plan of your own?” Important Democrats were saying: “poor Democrats in the House, they don't have a plan of their own.” Exactly. Our plan was Social Security and the private sector advisers said if you start saying: “well the that, the age, the tax, the this, you will be confused with what he is doing. You must not offer another plan. It has to be about his plan.” My colleagues who were here will tell you, that on a weekly basis at least, Members would come in and say: “is it time for us to have a plan yet?”
And believe me, we probably had 250 plans, House and Senate, combined. Is it time for us to have a plan? And I kept saying to them: “never, does never work for you?” In terms of the contrast - Social Security, privatize - and that's the beginning of the end. And because our Members trusted us, Harry and me, trusted the two of us, then we were able to keep people together. President Bush really a lovely man, really. We disagreed in terms of policy but he would say: “I'm going to 23 states in 23 days,” something like that, and I would say: “I want you to go to 46 states in 46 days and I'll pay your way,” because we're going to be there to inoculate against your message, to protect Social Security and educate as to what you said doesn't work. So, at the end of it, I said nothing.
And he said: “well I achieved my goal.” I said: “you did, thank god you didn't.” He said: “no my goal was to raise awareness as to the challenge that Social Security faced.” Well that's a different goal than what he set out to do but he gave us the perfect issue. But for us it wasn't an issue, it was a value, it was an ethic, it was who we are as a country. And we were going to fight that fight, even if it meant taking the slings and arrows of our friends who were saying, “why don't you have a plan? Poor dears, they don't have a plan.” Some even in the media saying: “how can you possibly come here without a plan?” We have a plan, it's called Social Security. So, with that, that really - by September he was at 38 percent.
But we worked with President Bush on many issues. We passed the biggest energy bill ever to pass in our country, lowering the CAFE standards, the emissions, with conservation and efficiencies and the rest, hugely important bill. We worked with him on his version of the stimulus package to make sure it was refundable so that poor people and poor families, families with children, could get a stimulus too. We worked with him on PEPFAR. That was a great thing that President Bush did. But it would not have happened without a Democratic Congress funding it, from four billion to eight billion dollars, and some of the people who worked on that - Barbara Lee, did I hear her name mentioned earlier? But anyway, some of our colleagues who worked on that issue know that it was the House and the Congress that made that possible and we worked with him on probably the most unpopular bill that anyone will ever vote for, ever, TARP, because we were told that if we had not acted there would be no economy in four days. No economy. “Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Chairman, do you agree with the characterization that Secretary Paulson has given to the state of the financial institutions in our country?” And he, an expert on the Great Depression, said: “if we do not act immediately, we will not have an economy by Monday.” This was Thursday night. So, we did that, we worked with President Bush. The Republicans did not want to vote on that. I don't want to get partisan but they didn't want to vote for that and they didn't. It took Democratic votes to make that happen. We had some Republican votes but not nearly what would be expected for such a vote.
So, in any event, we worked with President Bush every place that we could. That's why it's so odd to see, even though you have differences of opinion, that you don't decide that you're going to find solutions and get results for the American people, recognizing that we're different branches, government may be different parties but we all are Americans that have an obligation to get some results and get the job done. So, in any event, that's how we did it. We stuck together, we took the heat for not - remember when people would say: “poor Democrats, they don't even have a plan.” That was the plan.
Ms. Maddow. TARP, the stimulus, health reform, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the new G.I. bill, the number of major pieces of legislation that you not only saw passed in the House, which we could also include Cap and Trade, the DREAM Act, but beyond those, the ones that also became law, is, and I don't just mean to flatter you, but is the kind of list of legislation that we associate, after whom we name large buildings in Washington. Your Speakership was Sam Rayburnesque in accomplishments, and I wonder how you can connect that list of accomplishments to the idea of political capital, and do you think having accomplished so much made it harder for Democrats to compete in the first mid-term election after President Obama was elected in 2010? Did just the magnitude of what you had been able to do legislatively make it easier for Republicans to claim that the pendulum needed to swing back?
Leader Pelosi. I think that if I had to use one word to describe what made the difference in the 2010 election, it would be money. Money. This is really important to note. People said: “you did this, you did that,” we had 9.5 percent unemployment and it's very hard to explain a health care bill, or an environmental law, whatever it happens to be, when people don't have a job and they don't want to hear, Rachel, that it would be 15 percent unemployment - right, my colleagues? Jackie, and Doris, and Susan - it would be 15 - and Anna's here some place, “but it would be 15 percent.” President Obama was a job creator from day one. The Recovery Act, three-and-a-half-million jobs saved or created, go on from there.
But, if you don't have a job, you don't really want to hear how bad it could have been and that's a screen that's very hard to get through. But if you put into that unlimited, undisclosed, special interest money coming in like that last week of the campaign, that is really insurmountable and that is something not surmountable. In any event, I think it's really important and I think that, we came to do a job. We didn't come to keep a job, or have a job, we came to do a job. So, we would never say: “well we would not have done health care, or Wall Street reform and the rest.” Yet all of those, whether it was [the] health care industry, whether it's Wall Street, whether it's people against labor, the people who are against collective bargaining, all that kind of money coming in against us, we can contend with if it's accountable, if we know who it is and it's within the limits of the law, but undisclosed special-interest money coming in at the end, that was too much. But we would never trade our accomplishments for anything.
But I'll tell you this: because we believe, as with Social Security, as with Medicare, health care for all Americans is a right, not a privilege for just a few, and that was the fight that was important to us. But on the money, I'm going to make a promise to you and this is a promise that I made at the invitation of President George Herbert Walker Bush on February 20th, was President's Day and we were at the University of Texas A&M, College Station, at the site of the Bush Library and the President's School of Government and Public Policy, he invited me there to talk on President's Day.
You can just imagine what the Republicans thought of that. And what I told that lovely audience that day, and it's supposed to be the most conservative school in Texas, they were lovely, what I told them that day was that we must reduce the role of money in politics. We must, we've got to take it to public funding of campaigns and we must increase the level of civility in campaigns - and here comes the promise - and when we do, I promise you, we will have many more women elected to public office, and young people, and minorities, representing the diversity of our country.
So, I think-we were 250-something like 250,000 votes from having the majority. They won this big number of votes, but in terms of the majority, it was only 200 votes here, 300 votes here, and that came from millions of dollars just being poured in the last days that would go unanswered in terms of their misrepresentations. But not to re-litigate that.
We spring from that question, but really, we have to look to the future and say: “we have to take back our democracy.” This is a government of the plutocracy, of the wealthy, or of the few, an oligarchy. That's not what our founders sacrificed their life, liberty and personal freedom for, this is something else. And nothing less is at stake in this debate than our democracy, where the voice, and the vote of the many determine elections, not the checkbooks of the very, very few. They said that three people gave more to Governor Walker last night than all the people raised by Tom Barrett. I mean, that's just not, whatever side you're on, maybe you're the one who can raise more of the money, it's not about that, it's gone too far, it's over the edge, we have to pull it back, and when we do, one of the benefits will be much more diversity and people able to take a chance and run so their views will be reflected in the Congress.
Ms. Maddow. In terms of getting to that point, and you have consistently talked about public financing for elections and how important that is. You've championed the DISCLOSE Act for example.
Leader Pelosi. And so have you.
Ms. Maddow. Well. Yeah, I've ranted about it, I guess, that's different, you've spoken, I've ranted. But one of the things that I think is so important about what's happened in Wisconsin, not just last night, but what gave rise to the recall in the first place was the fact that the Wisconsin Republicans under Scott Walker were using public policy to essentially dismantle public sector unions in Wisconsin and that, however you feel about union rights in the country, it had one very practical, partisan effect, which is that unions had been big supporters of Democratic candidates and Democratic causes, and had had a lot to do with the Democratic ground game. So, if they go away, in terms of whether or not that corporate money that's disproportionally supporting Republicans can be answered, at least on the Democratic side before there is some kind of reform, Democrats do not have a way to compete in terms of big outside money in elections and that is the reality now in Wisconsin. It is the reality in states where they have essentially eliminated union rights and it looks like Republicans, particularly after last night's results, will be emboldened to pursue that in as many states as they can.
I think structurally that's a pretty dire electoral situation for Democrats and I'm wondering if there is a secret Democratic plan B that I don't know about. Something to bridge the distance between now, and the hoped-for days of public financing for elections, which I don't know when that's going to happen.
Leader Pelosi. You mean apart from Rachel Maddow?
Ms. Maddow. If I'm the plan, that's a bad plan.
Leader Pelosi. Let me say this: I think, let's look at where we are. We are in a situation where there is endless, this is not about ‘well should we put money here, put money there' - endless money that does not have to make decisions about one race or another. An endless spigot of special interest, secret money pouring into the system. Some of it is, you know, there are some people who are conspicuous but by-and-large, the money that came after us, nobody knows who that is. So, you have endless money - just with misrepresentation suffocating the system. You have voter suppression, voter suppression by some of the same people who were elected in 2010 at the state levels and the rest, suppressing the vote. Twenty states have initiatives that are in place, or on the way, to suppress the vote and you have poisoned the debate, the dialogue, suffocate the system, suppress the vote, poison the debate. So, what does an average person say: “a pox on both your houses, I don't even know what you're talking about,” and they turn off to it and that is a victory for the special-interests. It's a victory for the special interests.
We might as well just go to those people and say: “who do you want to [be] President? Who do you want to be Speaker? Who do you want to be Governors in our states?” because there is no way to contend with that much money. So, we have to disclose, that's really important, we passed it in the House, they didn't pass it in the Senate, and therefore there's no disclosure and there's plenty of people around the country doing this as shareholders, as employees, as customers, as clients saying to businesses: “are you putting secret money into campaigns? We want to know.” So, we have to shine a bright light on this big money so the people know that this, something, Norm Ornstein - called it an “alien viper oozing slime into the system.” Now, he is not an emotional kind of a guy, as far as I know, but imagine, we had a hearing: “an alien viper oozing slime into the system,” and that's what it is, it's just that, and so, disclose, win, reform, and then amend the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision. We have to do that.
We have fabulous candidates to win. We have a message that Republicans are for millionaires, not the middle class. They want to sever the Medicare guarantee, they want kids to pay more for higher education, and that's basically our theme: Reigniting the American Dream, building ladders of opportunity for those who want to work hard, play by the rules, take responsibility to have opportunity for success and small business entrepreneurship, and the middle class are the pillars of that. Our Members are going to districts, in their districts, I'm reluctant to go too far into politics in this beautiful setting on this lovely afternoon, but we have a plan and it involves --because I tell you this: nothing less is at stake than our democracy. Say what you will about the issues, think what you will, we've always had differences of opinion, we could just send one person if we didn't. No, we have differences, region, geography, age, whatever - of political philosophy and the rest, but that doesn't mean that we cannot find solutions and that's why I was so complimented when President Bush invited me to give the President's Day presentation at Texas A&M because it was different then then it is now. And we won't go into the why and how, but nonetheless it is, we have [a] motto in San Francisco: “don't agonize, organize.” And that's the deal.
We're just going to organize our way to victory. We just need 25 seats. So, I think that's very doable. I want 35 but I want more, always.
Ms. Maddow. On the issue of the spread of time you have spent in Congress, you came to Congress, elected 25 years ago, and you've written about how you expected to have a 10 year time frame. You thought, 10 years you were going to devote to this and then the next chapter of your life would start. What did you think the next thing you would do would be after those 10 years? And once you were in Congress, did you ever think about leaving, did you ever think about going home, or once you landed did you know that you just wanted to press ahead?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I didn't come here to be a lifer if that's what you mean. No, I figured about 10 years would be an appropriate time and then I would hopefully by then have grandchildren, which was my goal in life, and one of them is here, Madeline is here today with my daughter Nancy. I really wasn't thinking, I didn't even know I was going to be running for Congress 25 years and five months ago, it just happened. The opportunity presented itself. I promised Sala Burton, a woman Member of Congress who decided that I should be a Member of Congress.
Now, this has happened with men in the history of our country but when Sala did it there was like: “who said she could anoint somebody?” But, in any event, I promised her I would run. I did and I didn't know if I would win, it was a tough race, but I did, but then we lost, in the meantime, we lost the Congress, and we lost [in] '94, ‘96, ‘98, 2000, and my 10-year anniversary was in like '97, and I thought “I know how to win elections, I know how to win elections. I grew up in a campaign mode with my family in Baltimore, I know how to win elections.” So, we had an election in 2000 in California, we won five-seats that year and I thought we would have won the House but then they lost seats in the rest of the country, so then I said: “you know what, one in five kids in America lives in poverty.” That's my driving engine, that's what I wake up praying for in the morning and when I go to sleep at night. I can't stand the fact that my kids are so blessed in every way and that just doesn't mean economically or financially, it means with love and care and all of that, and these children, some of them, even though they are living in poverty, have love and affection but they don't have the same kinds of opportunity. And so that was my driving force and one issue led to another and then I got the chance to be in the leadership and we won and then I became Speaker.
But one of the things that I really want to do before I leave here, and it won't be finished before I leave, but we must get much farther down the road, is the issue of child care in America. Affordable, quality child care. Here we are at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, where these women of such courage did such a remarkable thing. Imagine the courage of that time. Women weren't even allowed to go out by themselves in those days, even the women 50 years before that, in Seneca Falls, etcetera, but, in any event, women got the right to vote just a little over 90 years ago.
Then, during World War II, women were in the workforce, on the war effort and then there was the higher, widespread, a higher education of women, then women in the professions, but the link that isn't in there is affordable, quality child care and that's something that really has to happen. Regardless of your income level or your thinking on the subject, there should be affordable, quality child care in our country and it almost was there. President Nixon was about to sign the bill and then there was an intervention from more conservative elements in the country and that was that. And not much has happened since then. But I think it is really important because the growth of America is going to benefit from the increased involvement of women in our economy and in the leadership of our financial institutions, and in our small businesses, the national security of our country will be strengthened by the increased involvement of women at all levels, including at the highest level of our national security. Whether you're talking about the academic world, whether you're talking about politics and government, the answer to almost every “how can we do better” is one word: women, more women empowered. So, if we really want our country to grow economically and in every way, the involvement of women, whether it's in small businesses or the entrepreneurial spirit or if they educate with innovation in the classroom and the rest, the best is yet to come for our country because [there is] more opportunity for women.
Seventeen or nineteen of the Fortune 500 CEO's are women. You can't be telling us that the talent is not there, but we talked earlier about money and reducing that and increasing [the] civility and [the] kind of a conversation where women can thrive and succeed, it's about making our own environment. We're playing on somebody else's field, whether it's politics, I've been supporting women, as it was so nicely pointed out earlier, wanting to increase the number of people in Congress. There were like 20 when I went, now there are closer to 80, but that's still not enough. At that rate, it'll take us 200 years to get to parity. So, we can't, we tried this incremental thing, two steps forward, one step back, 10 steps forward, two steps back, that isn't working for us in the right way. So let us make our own environment, one in which women can be much more successful, and by that I'm talking about elective politics and at the same time in the full participation of every aspect of our lives with the child care.
We've got to make it easier for women to succeed, not easier because we can't do the hard job, but easier because the arena that we are in has been defined by others, for the purpose of others, and not really to give any opportunity or power away. Nobody has ever done that, given it away and they're not going to give it away now, so we just have to go take it.
Ms. Maddow. That was actually the perfect note on which to end: take it!
Leader Pelosi. I have to tell you one more story. I have to tell you this story. Many of you have probably heard me tell this before but I can't leave the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum without telling it again and I'll give you the abbreviated version. You may not think it is, but it is the abbreviated version, and that is the following.
When [we] walk upstairs and we see Susan B. Anthony and we see Alice Paul and oh my gosh, how wonderful all of that is, imagine the courage of the women who came here and plotted and planned the women's party and all that. I want to tell you this story, and again, many of you have heard it. First day I went to the White House representing the Democrats in the House of Representatives, went to the White House, been there a million times, didn't even think about being apprehensive about the meeting. And so I go into the room, the door closes behind me, and as I begin to sit down at the table I realize that this [is] unlike any other meeting I had ever been to at the White House. In fact, it was unlike any meeting that any woman had been to at the White House because it was a meeting of the leadership, the President, the Vice President, and the leaders, House and Senate, Democratic and Republican, to sit down and talk about the legislative agenda. Now, women have been at the table, appointed by the President and that's a wonderful thing. But I was sitting there with my power derived from the election of my colleagues, not the appointment of one person, so my voice at that table had a different authority, for lack of a better word.
Ms. Maddow. That's the perfect word.
Leader Pelosi. So, anyway, we go in the room and there's President Bush, gracious and lovely as ever, and saying welcome, and as he's speaking, I feel really closed in in my seat. I mean, it was like I was really closed in my seat, I've never had that experience before or since, really closed in in my seat. He must have been thinking: “what's going on there,” but he probably would have been thinking that anyway. So, all of a sudden, I realized that on that chair with me was Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Lucretia Mott, you name it, they were all there, Sojourner Truth, they were all there on that chair with me and I could hear them say: “at last we have a seat at the table” and as soon as they said it, I thought, “we want more.”
But not that we needed any reality on it. We all know that we all stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before us and that others stand on our shoulders and will continue to do so. As women advance, we want to have something very different, not incremental, but kicking open the door to something much better for women, and in closing, and this time I really mean it, let me just say what an honor it is to be at Sewall-Belmont House and Museum. It's always a joy to come here, it's so strengthening and inspiring and the rest, but isn't it great to be here with Rachel Maddow? Isn't she wonderful, isn't she wonderful? Let's hear it for Rachel Maddow!
Ms. Maddow. Thank you so much, thank you.
Leader Pelosi. You are so great, we're so proud of you.