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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) celebrated the 25th anniversary of her election to Congress today at an event moderated by television personality Rachel Maddow, blasting the role of money in campaigns and outlining her plans to increase the number of women in politics.
Pelosi also offered surprisingly warm praise for former President George W. Bush as she recounted how Democrats defeated his proposal to change Social Security and she recounted an unusual anecdote about how the ghosts of past women leaders spoke to her at her first White House meeting as Speaker.
The event had a valedictory feel that might encourage speculation about Pelosi retiring some time in the near future.
In December, the late Andrew Breitbart’s website quoted Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra, saying, “She would retire right now if the donors she has didn’t want her to stay so badly.” The former Speaker’s office strongly denied Pelosi was retiring.
In contrast to any indication of retiring, Pelosi asserted her power over the Democratic Caucus just hours before the event, urging Members to fill out fundraising cards that indicated if they were donating or instead were “not on the team.”
Maddow began the conversation by recounting how in Pelosi’s first remarks after being elected in June 1987, the new Member said she had come to address HIV/AIDS issues.
“As a gay kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1980s ... 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,” Maddow said.
Pelosi recalled that a puzzled colleague asked her, “Why would you say that?” arguing that it was politically reckless to associate herself so boldly with the issue.
Pelosi also mentioned that she spent Tuesday in New York City with U2 frontman Bono at another, private event to honor her 25th anniversary.
At Maddow’s prompting, Pelosi recalled how Democrats defeated Bush’s Social Security proposal after the 2004 presidential election.
Bush, whom Pelosi called “really a lovely man” despite their disagreements, had discussed allowing individuals to invest their Social Security payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts, which Democrats dubbed “privatizing” Social Security.
Bush’s proposal was a “gift,” Pelosi said, adding that the key to Democrats’ success was resisting entreaties to offer their own plan to shore up Social Security’s finances.
Without a Democratic plan to confuse the issue, the attacks against Bush’s plan had more resonance, Pelosi said.
However, she said Democrats worked with Bush on “many issues,” listing an energy bill, AIDS funding and the Wall Street bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis.
Pelosi spoke at length about increasing the number of women in politics and said the issue she’d most like to make progress on before retiring is increasing the availability of affordable child care. Pelosi referenced a bill that President Richard Nixon nearly signed into law that dealt with the issue as an example.
Finally, the Minority Leader offered a story from her first White House meeting after Democrats won control of the House in 2006, propelling her to Speaker.
The meeting, between Bush and the leadership of the House and Senate to discuss the legislative agenda, was the first time a woman represented either the Senate or the House in such a setting.
Though she’d been to the White House many times before, Pelosi said she suddenly felt “really closed-in in my seat” on this occasion.
“I realized that on that chair with me was Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Hall, 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,’” Pelosi said.