“What the hell is going on in Washington—are we ever going to have a Speaker?” exclaimed David Axelrod, the Director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, to begin his Friday, October 15th conversation with House Minority Leader and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at International House’s Assembly Hall. Laughing, Pelosi said that she “would be the last person to tell you what’s going on in the Republican caucus” and added that anyone she “might suggest as a good leader would be immediately not considered.” Unwilling to eliminate any of the current candidates, despite Axelrod’s questioning, Pelosi explained that the challenge was that those in consideration for her former role “would all take it, they just have to have the votes to get it and that’s really what the challenge is.” Diplomatic though she was, Pelosi noted that “we have a very unusual situation right now, because the majority party in Congress is an anti-governance party, and that’s unfortunate,” before reminding the audience about the 151 Republicans who voted to shut down the government at the end of September. However, Pelosi noted that she was “hopeful that there are enough responsible members on that side” to secure the best Republican candidate for the position.
Pelosi also touched on other issues during the event, including Pope Francis’s recent visit to Washington, D.C. and the 2016 presidential election. Pelosi praised the Pope, citing his mention of “transparency, the most valuable trait” and his “practical” nature. A Catholic, she seemed quite affected by the Pope’s visit and his message of hope for the United States government; she even revealed that Pope Francis blessed photos of her family during their meeting.
Later, the conversation turned to 2016, and while she mentioned both frontrunners in the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Pelosi made it clear which candidate she supported. When David Axelrod described Senator Sanders as someone Pelosi “groomed as a potential president when he was in [her] caucus,” Pelosi laughed, and responded, “he would say that,” before shifting to addressing the economic challenges the nation faces and reasserting her support for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In contrast, while discussing Clinton’s support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Pelosi lauded her experience, describing her as “Senator, Secretary, so many titles, so well-prepared for president.” Later, Pelosi reminded the audience that she herself has “been called the highest ranking women in politics in history in America” before announcing that “pretty soon [she] will be relinquishing that title and [is] very excited about that,” suggesting her vision of a Clinton victory in the next presidential election.
Secretary Clinton was not the only female politician mentioned at the event, and Pelosi expounded upon the benefits of having women involved in government, passionately arguing that “when women succeed, America succeeds—that’s not just a slogan, that’s a statement of fact, and you can apply it to any country in the world, any organization.” Pelosi noted the major role that income can play in determining women’s ability to balance work and home life, and called for the equal pay for women.“What man would say ‘my daughter, my wife, my sister shouldn’t make as much as the person standing next to her with the comparable education, experience, and knowledge?’’’ she asked.
Despite noting the challenges faced by women in the workforce today, Pelosi praised the diversity of the current Democratic caucus, reminding those in the packed International House assembly hall and watching online that over 50 percent of the caucus is “women, minorities, and LGBT”—something that has “never happened in the history of the world, that a political party in a democratic system would be a majority minority.” Later, Pelosi was met with huge applause when she asserted that if “you reduce the amount of money in politics and you will have more women, more young people, and more minorities in public office.”
During the Q&A session, when a student asked a critical question about Pelosi’s support for the controversial nuclear deal with Iran, she held her ground, calling the deal a “diplomatic masterpiece” and referencing her experience as the longest serving member of the House Committee on Intelligence and the support the deal has received from nuclear scientists, nobel laureates, diplomats, and generals alike. Pelosi rejected the student’s assertion that the deal would “facilitate the deaths of millions,” and described the next steps for the deal, noting that “now we have to make sure that [the Iranians] honor it, and the more compliments I pay to the President for the agreement, the more we send a message to the Iranians—you have to live up to this.”
Pelosi sent an equally strong message to voters in the room, bemoaning the fact that only one-third of eligible voters voted in the last election. Pelosi encouraged people to vote and voters to be informed, and urged young people to get involved in politics, offering some advice to youth interested in running for office. “Be yourself,” she said. “You can have mentors, and have models, but just be yourself, because authenticity is the most valuable trait.” To succeed, Pelosi said, takes “courage,”“determination,” “purpose,” “vision,” and the ability to “make a plan,” among other qualities.
Dylan Wells is a fourth-year Political Science major and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations minor. This summer Dylan worked at ABC News' Washington, D.C. bureau as a Political Unit Fellow. Previously, she interned twice at the Institute of Politics as the Events Intern and the Summer Programs Intern, and with POLITICO Live at the DNC. On campus, Dylan serves on the boards of TEDxUChicago and Chicago Strategies. Last year she served as The Gate's Elections Editor, and was the recipient of the inaugural David Axelrod Reporting Grant, which she used for a story on domestic human trafficking. Dylan enjoys traveling, exploring the Chicago brunch scene, and playing with her dog, Wasabi.