Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi participated in a conversation moderated by Bloomberg News' Margaret Carlson at the National Journal's Women 2020 Conference. Below is a transcript of the conversation:
Ms. Carlson. You know, we've had all really successful women today, but for you to take the time to come, thank you. And in the world of role models, for me, you are a stand out in that regard. I thought about it yesterday when Yahoo! announced its new CEO, a woman. But, not only is it a woman, it's a woman who is, at this moment, pregnant. Now, when I was coming up you wanted to hide that you were pregnant. So, I wanted to get back, you just celebrated your 25th anniversary, you entered Congress at age 46 or something. Don't do the addition. She's very young. And I can wait until, I mean, I didn't launch my career at age 46, I was just plugging along, pretending I didn't have a child, more or less, but you did it and you got out, and now, Madam Speaker, Leader Pelosi, you went to the mountain top. So, tell me, tell us, how did you get where you are?
Leader Pelosi. Well, thank you very much for coming, to you and to Margaret, for the opportunity to be with you today. I feel it's always a very special privilege when I can have an opportunity to share ideas with the young women coming up, and many of them already arrived at some very important positions in their whatever, their field of endeavor.
I did not set out to be Speaker of the House. I did not set out to run for Congress. I had five children. On the day I brought a baby home, my husband and I brought our baby Alexandra home from the hospital, our oldest child, Nancy, was turning six that week and Alexandra was our fifth child, so I had important work to do about the future and about our children, and that's what I did. I always had an interest in public affairs, having been born into a political family in Baltimore, Maryland. My husband is a native San Franciscan and that's where we raised our family, but, I think, if I could convey anything to all of you, it is that -- be ready for whatever opportunity comes along. Again, I was interested, I volunteered in politics in California, to the extent that I became the Chair of the California Democratic Party. Still a volunteer, still the timing would be whatever could happen between nine and three, when my children were in school all day. But again, no intentions of running for Congress.
I wrote about this in my little book called "Know Your Power" and that's my message to you: know your power, because I had been reading articles that said since I was five years old I wanted to be in the Congress. Absolutely not. And when I was a teenager I just wanted to rock around the clock, that would be in the 50's, and to Elvis. But, it wasn't any destination that I had, that I waited until my children were grown to fulfill or to reach, it was just an opportunity that came along and I valued the experience I had as a mom, it was my motivation to volunteer in politics because I saw the advantages that including love and affection and the rest, that my own children had and was in despair over the fact that one in five children in America lives in poverty. So, that's what drove my engine to be involved, and that continues to drive -- is my motivation -- and every morning and every night I think of those one in five children in poverty. So, that's what's urgent for me and that is my passion, but I think everyone should follow their own passion, of course, and to all of you, your path is the right path for you. To have five children, and then have the turn of events that led to becoming the Speaker of the House is a very unlikely route, you may have a more focused path of a goal that you have in mind, but every step of the way, it's important to know your own power and not have your own prospects defined by somebody else's version of the story.
Ms. Carlson. By the way, may I recommend the book to all of you? I went through it quickly and in addition to having a father who led you in politics, and your family was very helpful, you had a great mother-in-law, now that's one of the secrets, who went through the phone book and wrote handwritten letters and wrote handwritten letters to everyone with an Italian surname to vote for you. You may not remember this
Leader Pelosi. I do remember a few Hispanics roped in there. Family is of course very important. I was born into a political family. As I said, this book is just a little, just to say, no, I wasn't thinking of this all my life, this is how I got to where I am. But it is important that my father, when I was young, my father was a Member of Congress and my mother, she had had seven children, six boys, one girl, I was the youngest. When I was in first grade, my father was elected Mayor of Baltimore. When I went away to college, he was still the Mayor of Baltimore, so that was the life we led -- about public service, responsibility to the community and campaigns, almost all the time, and I liked that. But I didn't want it for myself, I wanted to be a normal person.
Ms. Carlson. Are you not normal now?
Leader Pelosi. Not quite. But, no I mean, the point being that your time is, you have responsibilities and they are priorities. But my mother was very, very important. But what Margaret was referencing is when I ran for Congress, which was a very spontaneous thing. Three weeks before, I had no idea I would be running for Congress, then we had an unfortunate death, one thing led to another and my mother-in-law had what was called the "Nana Brigade," which my daughter Christine writes about in her book, her boot-camp book, and she brought all of her fellow nanas together and they addressed these cards to eight thousand surnamed Italian-Americans who lived in the district and since I won by about three thousand plus votes, that was very important to me. But, it is, the point being, that every resource that you have when you run for office has to be utilized. What I would like to do though is to change, change the environment in which women have to make decisions, will make decisions about how they move forward.
For over 200 years, we've been playing on somebody else's playing field. We have to create our own environment because we have had incrementalism, whether it's Democratic or Republican women, and I speak about this as [a] non-partisan -- women, we elect 10 more, 12 more, lose two, gain five -- kick open the door, end this incrementalism. It will take us another 200 years, and we're still not even half-way there to represent the American people, and all of the talent and wisdom that women bring to the table. Not that we're better, you can make that decision case by case, but the diversity, the diversity of thinking at the table is central to having excellence, to having something better. So, what I would like to see is reduce the role of money in campaigns, increase the level of civility, I promise you, you will elect more women to public office. And, while you do that, you will have policies that are more friendly to women. We must, we must have affordable, quality child care in our country as a priority that we [do] not have. We just have to do better to unleash the full power of women. The ballot box and the bread box, I used to say are connected. If you want this policy, it's really important to elect more women to get this policy done in the best possible way. But I'll tell you this: we had women getting the right to vote over 90 years ago. Our suffragettes fought for decades and decades and decades to make that happen, it was very important. During World War II, we had women in the workforce, helping with the war effort, getting out of the house and going to a job, that was drastic change. Then, we had the higher education of women, women in the professions, women staying home, women having choices as to what they wanted to do, but we didn't take that next step, which was affordable, quality child care so that we could unleash the full power of women, and when we do, and reduce the role of money and increase civility, cause we do better in a more civil debate. There's just no question.
Ms. Carlson. Madam Leader Pelosi, I'm going to have to yield to the questioners before too long, so let me ask you just a couple of quick questions. You know, we have powerful women in the audience, I've met some in the green room today, and women in power are more normal, it seems to me, as you are, and the civility question which comes up, seems to me, how do you, I mean, you cracked, or you broke the marble ceiling. How do you deal with say, Speaker Boehner? Is it easier -- I have two questions: one is it, how is it to deal with John Boehner? The other is: can you work in this very hostile, partisan atmosphere that we read about on Capitol Hill. Can you reach out to women on the other side and get things done? Do you have friendships, do you get together for dinner? How does that work? But first to John Boehner, and have you ever seen him cry?
Leader Pelosi. Not in private, just when you have seen him. But, in any event, I have a good rapport with Speaker Boehner. Had it when he was Minority Leader and I was Speaker. It's not the personality thing, it's a policy thing, and that's where we have our disagreements, but if any one of the attendees today, and you're right, there are so many of them and what they do as you, first woman [Columnist] at Time Magazine, that's very impressive. Don't you think?
Say you wanted to run for Congress. Democratic of Republican -- they want me to do this, they said my necklace was hitting the mic. Guys don't have that problem.
[Leader Pelosi takes hand microphone]
Say you wanted to run for Congress, as I ran 25 years ago. You don't say: "I want to run for Congress so I can go over there and be a street fighter,' no, you say: "you're going there to honor the oath of office we take to the Constitution of the United States,' to recognize that people are sent there from all over the country with different points of view, philosophically, geographically, generationally, gender-wise, whatever it is, and that you hope to affect the decisions that are made. And that is pretty much [how] it used to be.
I was honored on February 20th of this year to be invited by President George Herbert Walker Bush, that would be President Bush 41, to Texas A&M, his alma-mater, no, excuse me, Yale was his alma mater, where his library is, the Bush Library, where he has the Bush School of Public Policy and Government, to present on President's Day. It was quite a lovely honor and it was connected to my 25th anniversary in Congress, and the work that we had done together, I as a junior Member of Congress, he as President of the United States. We had differences of opinion and sometimes we agreed and sometimes we didn't, but we were always respectful. And that's what you came to do -- not to be in, kind of a struggle, that doesn't recognize many other points of view in our country and that they all have to be respected. Not only for the person who was elected, but for the people who sent you or her, or she, her or him there. So, it used to be quite different. I've never been big on the dinner side of things because I have a district that's three hours earlier than I am, so five o'clock here is two o'clock there, eight o'clock there, five o'clock, you know, you keep working into the night when you're a California Representative. So, I can't really speak with much authority on that. Although, can I tell you about one dinner that I used to go to?
Ms. Carlson. Tell me, quickly.
Leader Pelosi. Okay, this is really fast. When I first came there was a group on Tuesday nights, we used to have dinner. It was all of the, mostly Democrats, but it didn't matter, but it any event, largely men, because that's what was here. [There] was only maybe 20 some women, maybe a couple dozen women when I first came to Congress, so we go to this dinner once a week and Barbara Boxer, Barbara Kennelly and I would be the three women who were going to this dinner. And it was instructive in that the guys would just always talk. They never said: "what do you think of this' or anything, they'd just all talk over each other, so if you wanted to say anything, you just jumped in and spoke. It didn't work well when you went home and tried that. People would be like: "hey, wait a minute, that's not how we have dinner around here.' But that's how it was there. Anyway, we always used to laugh, the three of us, that they never would think to turn to us and say: "What do you think of that?' Because we weren't likely to jump in the way they were jumping in. One night, we're all at dinner, they started talking the nights, evenings, when they had their babies, they had their babies. And, we thought: "well, surely they will say, what do you think?' Or, "does this make you uncomfortable?' No, it was all "I had on this green outfit with the thing and the doctor wouldn't let me in the first time, let me in the second time. I had my camera, I took pictures, I can show them to you. Never mind. I went in, but I didn't stay long because when I saw what was going on I was out the door.'
They all had their views, they all had their views. And we're the three of us thinking: "we have eleven children among the three of us.' Barbara has two, Barbara Kennelly four, I have five. "Well, surely, it might occur to them.' Not a word. It was a week later with someone named Don Edwards, who was a fabulous floor leader of the ERA, a beautiful, lovely man, and we were having dinner and we were talking about some constitutional issue, to which he said: "what do you think of that?' And we thought: "oh my God, Don, this is so remarkable, thank you for asking.' And we told him what happened the week before and all the same people were at the table, many of them, and they said: "we would never have done that, we would never have done that.' And we thought: "you know, you don't even know, you don't know, you don't have a clue that you were talking about childbirth and you didn't even think that that was something you could ask us. Do you really want to have this conversation?'
It was on par with when, on the floor of the House, one of them said, when we were having a debate over family planning, somebody who didn't share my view stood up and said: "Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the Pope." So, not that our expertise is confined to child birth and all that, but the fact is nobody's asking for anything, power, decision making, all the rest. You have to go out there and assert it and I think it's really important for us to change the environment that is more conducive for more women to be in the lead, more women to be in the mix, whether it's about the economy and growth, if it's about the military and the protection of our people, if it's about academics and how we train and educate the next generation, if it's about healthcare and how we keep our country healthy, all of it is better served by the empowerment of women in leadership in all of those fields. So, know your power and your role.
Ms. Carlson. I have time for maybe one more question. I'm tempted to say we've come a long way since you weren't asked about childbirth by these men. Are we going to get equal pay? We have the Lilly Ledbetter [Fair Pay] Act, Equal Pay voted down. When will we get it?
Leader Pelosi. Here's what I think. We have, as I said, bread box, ballot box, you have to elect people who support what you believe in, and we passed Lilly Ledbetter, the first bill signed by the President, President Obama, book ended by the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," both of them ending discrimination, one in the work place, one in the military. [At] the same time, under the leadership of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who has been a crusader, champion, leader on all of these subjects, we passed in the House, the equal-pay legislation. Because the Senate requires 60 votes, a majority was not enough and we couldn't pass it. But I think part of what we wanted to do in the next Congress and the rest is to talk about jobs and equal pay and part of that will be to have an agenda of reform in our political system that again, reforms. I have a DARE: Disclose, amend the Constitution, reform the system, elect people of any party who will be willing to make that change, and when you have that change, you can change the policy.
Ms. Carlson. Yes or no, yes or no. Are we going off a fiscal cliff in the lame duck session?
Leader Pelosi. We can't. We can't.
Ms. Carlson. But we almost did, we came so close. Our debt rating went down, we can't, but, we're not going to do it. The Congress is going to come around and be responsible, yes? No?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I can't answer for Mr. Boehner and the rest, but I would say that I think a lesson was learned last year when even the threat of not raising the debt limit lowered our rating. We have to work together in a balanced way to have growth, to have cuts, to have revenue to give a message of fiscal soundness. That's a headwind to our economic growth. What's happening in Europe is a headwind; the slow recovery of the housing market is a headwind; lack of as much credit as people need is a headwind; but one headwind that we can really do something about is a message of fiscal responsibility coming from the Congress. And that's a decision that we have to make. The President came to the table, agreed on it, the Republicans walked away, I don't want to get partisan here, but it is going to have to take strong bi-partisanship, yielding on both sides on these issues because, again, just the discussion of it undermines the credibility, and that stability, and credibility, for it is a headwind for economic growth. So, you'll have to ask them how sincere they are about revenues. We're very sincere about the cuts.
Ms. Carlson. Madam Speaker, you are civil, you are normal and you are funny, so I thank you very much on behalf of the audience.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you Margaret. Thank you all very much. Know your power!