Nancy Pelosi Tells Democratic Critics, ‘I Think I’m Worth the Trouble’


WASHINGTON — The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, strolled before the cameras on Thursday with defeat at her back once more, projecting a well-worn swagger — brash, defiant, more than a little off key — as she insisted that her moment had not passed.

“I think I’m worth the trouble,” she told reporters, parrying renewed questions from Democrats about her stewardship after yet another Republican congressional candidate, this time in Georgia, found success by making Ms. Pelosi and her adopted hometown, San Francisco, the centerpiece of a campaign.

With six words, Ms. Pelosi, 77, demonstrated the self-assurance that has powered her as one of the most successful congressional leaders in the modern era. Yet even as Democrats enjoy a surge of grass-roots energy that could resurrect their House majority, some members of Ms. Pelosi’s own party are impatient for her to give up her 15-year grip on power.

She is the Democrat most crucial to determining whether her party can take back the House and torpedo President Trump’s agenda — an avatar of the kind of coastal excess that Republicans abhor and that some progressives have come to view suspiciously in an age of ascendant populism.

“Everybody wants leaders,” she said in an interview in her office at the Capitol, during which she was often as dismissive of critics in her own party as she was of the Republican opposition. “Not a lot of people want to be led.”

The Democrats’ loss on Tuesday in the special House election in Georgia illustrated how she has become a lightning rod for conservative attacks. Millions of dollars of ads in a red-tinted suburban Atlanta district linked Ms. Pelosi to a candidate, Jon Ossoff, who had not even committed to supporting her as party leader.

With the Clintons and former President Barack Obama in retirement, Ms. Pelosi, the well-known former House speaker, is vital to Republicans as the embodiment of liberalism: She lives in San Francisco, comes from a politically connected background and a wealthy household, and pushed through the Affordable Care Act, all of which plays right into the hands of most Republican candidates running between the coasts. On Thursday, renewing a long-running conservative trope about how much Republicans value her as a foil, Mr. Trump tweeted that he hoped Democrats “do not force Nancy P out.”

To many Democrats, Ms. Pelosi is their own indispensable woman, a legislative genius, tactical wizard and prolific fund-raiser whose ability to hold together a fractious caucus is written in her own success in passing many laws, and blocking even more.

But some in her caucus have reached a different conclusion: She is not, well, worth it.

Representative Kathleen Rice, Democrat of New York, said flatly that Democrats had lost their way and could not win the majority back with Ms. Pelosi leading the party. Ms. Rice hosted a Thursday afternoon meeting of just over a dozen anti-Pelosi House Democrats, according to Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who attended. The would-be coup plotters did not emerge with “any action items,” Mr. Ryan said.

“The Republican playbook for the past four election cycles has been very focused, very clear: It’s been an attack on our leader,” Ms. Rice said. “Is it fair? No. Are the attacks accurate? No. But guess what? They work. They’re winning, and we’re losing.”

Even allies of Ms. Pelosi say they would be uneasy about her coming to their districts for public events, a practice she has largely given up as she has become such a focal point for Republican attacks.

Representative John Yarmuth, Democrat of Kentucky, heaped praise on Ms. Pelosi’s leadership skills but demurred when asked if he would want her to go to Louisville.

“Not at a rally,” he said.

Ms. Pelosi, boasting that she was “the biggest fund-raiser in the country” still in office, dismissed suggestions that her time had passed. And she could not help but note that her critics did not mind benefiting from her financial prowess.

“You know what? I want them to win. I want them to win,” she said of those who want her fund-raising help but would just as soon avoid being photographed with her. “If I were bothered by that, I wouldn’t be raising the money. What is curious to me is people say, ‘Raise us all the money and then step aside.’ It’s like, what?”

Since entering the House Democratic leadership in 2002, Ms. Pelosi has raised nearly $568 million for her party. Just in the 2016 election cycle, she raised over $141 million.

Ask any Democrat why Ms. Pelosi is so valuable, and invariably, her ability to raise money will be cited.

Yet her allies say she supplies much more than cash, praising her ability to impose member discipline and her skills as a “back-room dealer,” in the admiring words of Representative Dina Titus, Democrat of Nevada.

Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, hailed her deftness at “herding cats.”

“It’s been a lot of work for her to kind of keep us away from impeachment and on health care and the economy,” Mr. Cohen said. Of her fund-raising supremacy, he said, “She’s good at the wealthier folk.”

But after Mr. Ossoff, the Democratic nominee in the Georgia race, harnessed online liberal fervor to raise at least $25 million, largely from small contributions, and Senator Bernie Sanders did the same to bankroll his presidential bid, the value of high-dollar fund-raising is increasingly in question. Some on the left even argue that it is detrimental to the party’s image.

“You can’t tell people you’re against big money, that you’re fighting for the average American, and then spend so much of your time with PACs and corporate interests and the very wealthy,” said Representative Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat who has been frustrated with Ms. Pelosi and is running for the Senate. In any case, Mr. O’Rourke added, “if money were the critical factor, we’d be in the majority right now.”

In the interview, as a bank of TVs aired footage of the Senate health care debate, Ms. Pelosi said repeatedly that she would prefer to discuss policy.

“I am a master legislator,” she said.

But when pressed, she talked at length and in bracingly frank terms about why she was under fire in her caucus — and why it would not impede her.

“I think there was a level of disappointment after the election for president, because I think a number of people here thought they were destined for the administration,” Ms. Pelosi said, diagnosing the renewed restlessness among some House Democrats.

Others in the caucus, she suggested, were simply preening for future campaigns. “It may serve their purpose statewide to say, ‘I fought the leadership,’” she said. “And I respect that.”

She said that no Democratic lawmakers had approached her about stepping down since the Georgia contest. And, taking aim at the band of mostly young House Democrats agitating for her to go, she claimed that their criticism had drawn her allies closer: “People just flock to support me,” she said.

As for why the right so delights in elevating her, Ms. Pelosi said it was because she had been so effective. But she also said that the Republicans targeting her believed her gender made her more polarizing than other political leaders, and that the right’s fixation on her hometown grew out of San Francisco’s identity as a haven of tolerance for gays and lesbians.

Tying unpopular, and well-known, congressional figures to others in their party seeking election is hardly a novel strategy. Republicans used the same playbook when Tip O’Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat, was House speaker, portraying him as the picture of liberal excess. And the right spent decades inserting Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s well-known face and Boston brogue into commercials against Democrats running on more conservative terrain.

But the irony now is that, while Ms. Pelosi is a down-the-line progressive, she is hardly representative of the Sanders left on economic issues, or of the interest-group enforcers of cultural liberalism. She is resisting calls for House Democrats to run on single-payer health care coverage and is an unapologetic pragmatist when it comes to those in her ranks who deviate from orthodoxy.

When a debate about abortion flared earlier this year, Ms. Pelosi made it plain that there was a home in the party for those who oppose abortion rights.

The caricature of Ms. Pelosi as an elite California liberal is also faulty. She is more a product of the bare-knuckle Baltimore political clubhouse — where she learned politics at the knee of her father, the mayor — than the Pacific Heights chardonnay-and-canapés circuit. “Have your fun,” she said at a news conference Thursday, all but taunting her intraparty detractors. “I thrive on competition.”

A vast majority of House Democrats expect no such competition, at least not at the moment.

“Nobody pushed Michael Jordan into retirement,” said Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri.

12 thoughts on “Nancy Pelosi Tells Democratic Critics, ‘I Think I’m Worth the Trouble’

  1. Insane, delusional, senile, butt ugly, nasty, stone cold alcoholic and completely out of touch with reality. And those are Piggi – Losi’s GOOD qualities!

  2. not worth the powder Bit@h..rather watch you die of a debilitating painful ugly disease…oops i see i wished too late

  3. Nancy Pelosi Tells Democratic Critics, ‘I Think I’m Worth the Trouble’

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