Agence France Presse: Powerful Pelosi celebrates health care victory

It was just days after what may have been her most hard-fought, historic, legislative triumph, and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was smiling and looking ahead to her birthday.

‘You know what I want for my birthday?’ the most powerful woman on the US political stage asked reporters. ‘I want a pool table. I’ve always wanted a pool table. I want a pool table. I want to get better at it.’

Her comments — an unusually unguarded, almost chatty moment for the third-ranking US elected official — came Thursday as she savored victory after a year-long fight to pass President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Pelosi, who turned 70 on Friday, now faces another daunting challenge: steering a still-ambitious agenda through a fractious Democratic caucus, past Republican opposition, ahead of November mid-term elections expected to deeply dent her majority in the House of Representatives.

Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner recently warned swing-district Democrats she was leading them ‘over a cliff’ by driving the health care bill through the House despite deep public misgivings.

And Republicans have caricatured her as the villain ‘Cruella’ from Disney’s ‘101 Dalmations,’ and raised money with a web site,, that shows her, fists raised, against a backdrop of flames.

If history is any guide, the 253-seat Democratic majority will shrink considerably — but if Pelosi has her way, even vulnerable rank-and-file Democrats won’t shrink from the historic social policy change.

‘Our members know what works in their district and how they communicate with their constituents,’ said the San Francisco, California. Democrat. ‘But it’s a great message to bring.’

Asked about unlikely prospects of cooperation with Republicans, Pelosi answered: ‘Bipartisanship is nice, but it cannot be a substitute for action, not having it cannot prevent us from going forward.’

It’s a principle she has applied all year, passing a nearly 800-billion-dollar economic stimulus package through the House with not a single Republican vote, and then a bill to fight climate change that drew just eight Republicans.

There have been many women advisers to US presidents, three women US secretaries of state, two women US vice presidential hopefuls from major parties — but only one woman Speaker of the House, second in line for the presidency.

Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro was born to a political family with roots in Venice, Genoa, Abruzzi, Campobasso and Sicily and raised in Baltimore’s ‘Little Italy.’

‘We were devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian American heritage, and staunchly Democratic,’ she once wrote.

She was first elected to Congress in 1987, joined the Democratic House leadership in 2001, became the first woman to lead a major US party in the House in 2002, rising to Speaker after Democrats won a majority in 2006.

‘Today, we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them,’ she said upon taking office in January 2007.

Pelosi has been a force on US foreign policy, notably levelling forceful attacks on China’s human rights record, criticizing the war in Iraq, and has made frequent trips to Italy.

Democrats credit her with resurrecting the health care bill after Democrats lost their Senate supermajority in the Senate — and say she never wavered.

‘We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence.  If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in,’ she vowed in January.

Asked after the House approved the overhaul on Sunday whether she was the most powerful woman in 100 years, Pelosi told ABC television: ‘That sounds good.’

Sometimes, though, even the most powerful woman doesn’t get what she wants: An aide said Friday that it was not clear Pelosi would get her pool table.

But she did receive roughly 2,600 roses from admiring supporters, whom she thanked in a video message in which she said she had given half to recovering US soldiers at a Washington military hospital, and the other half to congressional staff as thanks over the health legislation.

Newsletter Signup