By Carl Hulse
As she begins her second Congress as leader of the opposition in the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California is confident that Democrats will get behind President Obama on the big clashes with Republicans. But she thinks the president should aggressively line up much wider support for raising the federal debt limit and enacting new gun rules.
"He has to communicate with the American people on it," Ms. Pelosi said about the debt-limit increase during an interview in which she looked ahead to the issues facing the 113th Congress. She urged the president "to bring everyone to a place where we can say we are going to remove all doubt that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will be honored."
Ms. Pelosi, 72, who is leading an expanded House minority, offered similar advice for the president in building momentum for gun restrictions in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. If lawmakers balk, she said, take the issue to the public.
"There has to be a national conversation," said Ms. Pelosi, who was active in the House in 1994 when Congress passed an assault-weapons ban that has since expired. "The safety of our country cannot go as slow as the slowest ship in the House of Representatives or even the United States Senate."
"If we come out of the Newtown experience and all we do is talk about it and not have a result," she added, "that would be a dereliction of duty on the part of us in public office. We must find a place where we can come to agreement on this."
With the year-end fiscal pileup over taxes and spending concluded after Democrats provided the majority of support for House passage, Ms. Pelosi enters the latest Congress with 49 new Democrats and a net gain of 8 seats in the November elections. She said the infusion of new blood in the rank-and-file has brought energy and gives Democrats a "fresh start." Over all, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the new House, 233 to 200, with 2 vacancies.
After prompting some discussion that she might retire after Democrats failed to retake the House in November, Ms. Pelosi, who served as the first female speaker from 2007 to 2011, gave no impression that she is winding down as she enthusiastically gamed out the policy that will figure into the coming months as well as the politics.
"While I'm in it, I'm in it," she said "When I go, I'll go." She is far from ready to say that she will go.
"We just finished a lame-duck session," she said. "I don't want to be a lame-duck leader."
The president's party traditionally takes a hammering in the midterm election of second term, but Ms. Pelosi is cautious about making presumptions about 2014, particularly given the fundamental changes in political communications and strategy.
"Any assumption of past performance when it comes to elections in this day and age is stale," said Ms. Pelosi, who said she would make her judgment on the electoral landscape about a year from the election.
Given the issues in Washington, plenty could change between now and then with Congress veering toward multiple fiscal showdowns as well as difficult debates over gun control and immigration law.
Ms. Pelosi said she and her fellow Democrats wholeheartedly support the president's declaration that he will not horse trade with Republicans over the need to raise the debt limit as early as next month.
"It is bigger than just the accounting, it is about who we are as a country, how we professionally deal with the challenges," she said.
Democrats are willing to entertain spending cuts, she said, but the reductions need to be considered separately from the debt-limit discussion. And cuts that go too deep or are aimed at the wrong programs can, she said, hurt the nation in crucial areas like education, technology, science and energy.
On gun rights, Ms. Pelosi said Democrats are no longer talking about gun control but refer instead to what she calls gun violence prevention -- an effort by Democrats and their allies to find a less politically charged term, one that suggests a broader range of approaches beyond simply gun regulation.
She called it challenging to balance the rights of gun ownership with public safety and security but said Congress needed to find a way to reach consensus.
"We have to prioritize, get the votes and do something," said Ms. Pelosi, who identified limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines as one area that Democrats would explore.
She acknowledged a strong sentiment in Congress against gun law changes as well as the political risks usually associated with taking votes on gun restrictions. But in light of the Connecticut shooting, she said she expected the weight of public opinion to push Congress in the direction of new laws.
"I think you are going to see something outside of Washington have an impact on what happens inside of Washington," she said.