Taking over from Paul Ryan on January 3rd, 2019, Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as the 52nd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, a powerful role in the country’s constitution. Pelosi, a member of the Democratic Party, is second in the line of succession to assume the highest office in the land with only the president and the vice-president before her. She has already created waves in the role after clashing with the incumbent of the oval office over his much-vaunted plans to construct a wall between Mexico and the USA. Pelosi is no stranger to the political machinations of Washington. She had previously held the speaker’s role between 2007 and 2011 when George W Bush was president, becoming the first woman to do so. The question many political commentators are asking is whether Trump has met his match in Pelosi and who is likely to fare better in the coming years as both sides start gearing up for a new presidential election?
A Liberal Political Career
Pelosi was raised in Baltimore, where her brother was the Democratic mayor for a spell, but she built her career in California throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, she was elected as the Democratic National Committee for her adoptive state, a role she continued to fulfil for two decades. She entered the US House of Representatives in 1987 and has held various key jobs for her party there ever since, notably becoming the house minority leader in 2004.
Pelosi is generally considered to be liberal on many issues. For example, she has championed immigrant and LGBT rights. She is an advocate of legalising the use of marijuana and has spoken out against some of the tougher interrogation techniques employed by the CIA. However, Pelosi voted in favour of the 2006 Internet Gambling Bill which made it illegal for many casinos to operate online in nearly all US states. She also garnered criticism from some liberals for her condemnation of Edward Snowden, the activist who revealed the extent to which the US authorities were collecting data on its citizens.
That said, once Pelosi returned to her speaker’s role following the 2018 mid-term elections, she immediately took the opportunity to show her liberal stance on immigration by refusing to fund the president’s Mexican wall project. She has also spoken repeatedly about the alleged links between the president’s 2016 election campaign and Russia. She is likely to go on backing the ongoing investigation into that matter. Pelosi opposed the US becoming involved in the First Gulf War and its subsequent invasion of Iraq under President Bush Junior.
The Challenge for Democrats
Among the many supporters of Trump, there is a large sub-section which had previously not voted in elections. His success in 2016 was, in many ways, down to his ability to talk to the aspirations of this group and to mobilise them into voting at all. With the federal government in shutdown due to the row Pelosi – and others in the Democratic Party – have sought over the Mexican wall, the question is who will the people blame? Understandably, the presidential narrative is that Pelosi is deliberately shutting down federal spending in order to try and win on a specific political point. That may not wash with most voters for now but if the crisis persists some may just want the matter to be brought to a compromise solution. The challenge for Pelosi and the elected politicians around her is to gain a victory over the president but not for that to come at the expense of alienating support for the upcoming presidential race in 2020.
At the age of 78 when she assumed the speaker’s chair for the second time in her career, few American political analysts think that Pelosi is going to run for president in the 2020 elections. Of course, Donald Trump is only a little younger than Pelosi, by just under four years, and few people expect him not to seek a second term in office. Certainly, if Pelosi were to throw her hat into the ring and seek the Democratic nomination, then she would be met with great enthusiasm from many in the ‘liberal centre’ of her party. She certainly knows how to make allies as her joint announcements with Chuck Schumer, the Leader of the Senate, have shown.
Nevertheless, the Democratic field of candidates is likely to be wide with several politicians already committed to running. Julian Castro from Texas, John Delaney from Maryland and Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii – widely seen as the left-wing candidate who will run in the manner of Bernie Sanders – have all got their campaigns underway. More are expected to follow and the process is likely to be bruising. With Pelosi’s battles with Trump still ongoing, she may feel unable to fight her colleagues at the same time to win her party’s endorsement. That said, these are unprecedented times in American politics, so who knows?