Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legacy: Seize power to do good

Many years ago, having just finished a detailed conversation in the Democratic cloakroom in the U.S. Capitol about next steps for trying to pass legislation through the House and Senate to create a 9/11 Commission, Nancy Pelosi inquired about my family. I conveyed the progress of each of my four kids through school and sports programs and ended by mentioning to her that I had sent a book to Willie Mays (we are both avid San Francisco Giants fans) for an autograph but it must have been lost in the mail. Three weeks later I received an autographed book at home from Willie Mays inscribed to all four kids. It was no accident that Pelosi could master intimate details about everyone in the Democratic Caucus, give expert counsel on successfully navigating the complex legislative process and ultimately have an impact on the arc of history. My kids were thrilled, the bill eventually passed and history was changed by the 9/11 Commission’s book and recommendations.

This is one minor story about Speaker Pelosi’s influence on American politics and on the United States. She is given credit for masterfully guiding the Affordable Care Act through Congress when even the tough and ambitious White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel thought Congress should be less aggressive. In foreign policy, she strongly opposed the Iraq War and was passionate in her support for human rights in China. In her most recent stint as Speaker — with a slim margin of Democratic votes in the House of Representatives — she passed seminal laws to help middle-class families survive the COVID-19 pandemic, build new infrastructure throughout America to compete with China and create a new semiconductor industry for 21st-century U.S. jobs.

I served on the House Intelligence Committee and would sometimes travel with her on congressional trips to perform oversight of our assets and activities abroad, and this often included going to quite dangerous places in Africa and Southeast Asia. She was deeply respected by foreign dignitaries and pressed for additional scheduling of pictures and press, yet she always reserved time to meet lower-level American personnel and military to show her appreciation for their patriotic work. She is grounded in deep religious faith, constantly shows her integrity in difficult conversations and often reflects on her love of her own family.

According to Pelosi, “No one is going to give you power, you have to seize it.” What is often ignored about this quote is the single most important political quality of Pelosi. What do you do with power? How and when do you wield it? She is firmly committed to using power to accomplish goals and implement results. Power is gained and then adroitly applied to address the AIDS epidemic, plan for the climate crisis and support the Dalai Lama. Simply put, you must utilize power to do good.

Some say her legacy as a leader will be her abundant skills as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party. Some will insist it’s her political acumen as a keen listener to all diverse views in the caucus and consequently building a consensus to pass consequential legislation. And others counter and say it’s her inspiration to women and girls to break barriers and go from a “homemaker to House Speaker.” The scribes might say all these talents put together make the case she is the most important woman in American political history and the greatest Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives.

Tim Roemer is a former member of Congress (D-Ind.), former commissioner on the 9/11 Commission and former U.S. Ambassador to India.

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