Nancy Pelosi set to lead opposition to Trump as Speaker of a House with the most women

Ms Nancy Pelosi is a formidable political operator who has been in Congress for 31 years and the leader of the Democratic Party for 16 years.
Ms Nancy Pelosi is a formidable political operator who has been in Congress for 31 years and the leader of the Democratic Party for 16 years.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - Some call her a San Francisco latte liberal. But her daughter Alexandra says all you need to know about Nancy Pelosi is: "She'll cut your head off and you won't even know you're bleeding."

Barring unforeseen circumstances, 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi is set to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday (Jan 3) in Washington - and has already found herself toe to toe with President Donald Trump in a showdown over funding for the border wall with Mexico he promised his base.

She will also be wielding the gavel in a House that will have a record number of women - 102, comprising 23.4 per cent of the chamber's voting members. Before the November 2018 midterm elections, the record for women in the House was 19 per cent of seats.

Ms Pelosi, a mother of five with nine grandchildren, is a formidable political operator who has been in Congress for 31 years and the leader of the Democratic Party for 16 years.

"No one ever won betting against Nancy Pelosi," her daughter Alexandra Pelosi, a film-maker, told CNN on Wednesday.

Ms Nancy Pelosi will be the first lawmaker in more than half a century to hold the office of Speaker of the House twice. Her signature achievement legislatively is the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which was passed towards the end of her first term as Speaker from 2007 to 2011.

Still, with the stunning victory in 2016 of the insurgent Republican candidate Donald Trump, many in the Democratic Party were beginning to question whether Ms Pelosi should step aside for someone younger. But on the coat-tails of last November's victory in which the party wrested back control of the House, she secured enough support to get the Speakership by promising to stay for only one term.

"This is legacy-building time," Professor Jennifer Lawless, an expert on women in politics at the University of Virginia, told the New York Times. "If she can be the person who is remembered for holding Trump accountable, or not letting him put forward facts that are not facts, if she can be the one who just calmly sits there and holds his feet to the fire, in a lot of ways, that's just as important as anything else she does."

 
 
 

Ms Pelosi has already had a face-to-face showdown with the President before Christmas at the White House, where she and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer argued with Mr Trump over funding for the wall.

At one point she said curtly to the President, "Please don't characterise the strength that I bring to this meeting." Later she told a CNN reporter, "It goes to show you: You get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you."

While operating on a divided Capitol Hill - the Senate is still majority Republican, Ms Pelosi will have a new look Congress.

More than a third of the 102 women in the House won their seats for the first time in last November's midterm election - making them the largest female freshman class in history, according to the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. They include new stars of the left like 29-year-old New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat.

There are more women in the Democratic ranks in both the House and the Senate. Together, there are 108 Democratic women and 23 Republican women in the new Congress.

"The strong majority of new women members are Democrats so they will have success in the House because they are a majority," Dr Kelly Dittmar, assistant research professor at the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told The Straits Times.

But a lot of what they want to get done will be challenged in the Senate and by the President, she said. Just like their male counterparts, the women will be under the constraint of divided control of Congress.

It is always positive for legislative institutions to better reflect the constituents they serve, Dr Dittmar added.

She said: "Now you see not only an increase in representation by gender, but the women bring other layers of diversity in terms of race, age and professional background. Collectively, that diversity should yield better decision making and agendas that better reflect the needs of the fuller population."

She added: "I hope (this) encourages other women to consider ways to get more engaged in electoral politics, whether it is by running themselves or supporting other women candidates."