Pelosi: Economy Key In Democrats' Election Losses

The 2010 midterm elections dealt the Democrats a blow, especially in the House of Representatives, where they lost the majority. Renee Montagne sits down with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to talk about Pelosi's next steps — and those of her party.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Nancy Pelosi knows she has a target on her back. Republicans took aim at the speaker of the House all through this fall's campaign. But though her party lost the majority, she is inviting her political opponents to keep shooting. Pelosi wants to stay on as her party's leader in the House minority, and she is favored to win when Democrats vote.

Our own Renee Montagne reached Pelosi yesterday in her office on Capitol Hill.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Madam Speaker, good morning.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): Good morning. How are you, Renee?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you very much. For the last week, the Republicans have been rubbing their hands at the prospect of you becoming a minority leader. Some in your own party are still expressing misgivings.

But you've been talking about the positives. Tell us what the main ones are that motivated you to go for being minority leader.

Rep. PELOSI: My motivation for running is to be in the strongest possible position to create jobs, to continue the work we did in the previous administration, to preserve Social Security, to protect what we did for health care reform and Wall Street reform.

I'm running to put together the strongest plan to work with the Republicans to solve problems. The biggest problem is unemployment. I hope we can work together to create jobs. And I do so with the overwhelming support of my caucus, not the unanimous support.

MONTAGNE: To protect this big - some of these big pieces legislation that you helped lead the Democratic Party to achieve, are you now, though, willing to tinker with any of it - for instance, the Health Care Law?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, the fact is, is that you are either in favor of moving forward with improving care, lowering costs and expanding opportunity, or you are not. Are there particulars within the legislation? Always.

But the fact is there seems to be general agreement that a Patient's Bill of Rights is popular. No lifetime limits and no pre-existing condition can prevent you from getting health care. Those kinds of provisions are very popular.

MONTAGNE: Can you give us, say, one part of it that you would be willing to revisit to make some sort of compromise with the Republicans, or give them something they want?

Rep. PELOSI: One item that I think we all agree on is that's in the Senate -that was in the Senate bill - not in the House bill, but became part of the law - is 1099, which affects small businesses and small contractors and how they report their transactions. They know what it means, and they know they'd like to see it go. I think that's probably the first place we could go in together.

MONTAGNE: Getting back to the politics, you have been quite successfully demonized by the Republicans. How are you going to keep that from hurting your party more than it already has?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, let me say this when you say more than it already has. The reason the election results are what they are is because we have nine-and-half percent unemployment in our country. We didn't lose the election because of me.

In any circumstance when you have nine-and-half percent unemployment, any party that cannot turn that into political gain should hang up the gloves. I said that before the election.

The reason they had to try to take me down is because I've been effective in fighting the special interests in Washington, D.C. I'm also the most significant attractor of support for the Democrats. So I'm not looking back on this. They asked me to run. I'm running. And again, our members understand they made me target because I'm effective.

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering though if it might be more comfortable leading a predominantly liberal Democratic minority rather than the quite fractious majority that you've been leading. Do you have some sympathy for Republican Jim DeMint's famously stated preference for a hardcore group of conservatives over having even a majority - in his case, the Senate?

Rep. PELOSI: Absolutely not. That - don't put me - put me there with the Democratic majority, because no matter how diverse and broad the philosophical range of our party, our approach is: Does it work, and is it fair? And we need to hear the Republican views. We have an obligation to listen to what they're going to put forth. And if it can create jobs, if it can solve problems for our country, then we owe it to the American people to work together to do that.

If it is just more tax cuts for the rich and it'll trickle down and somebody will get a job, maybe, then we have to do something different. But let's be optimistic. We're here to solve problems.

MONTAGNE: Now, you just spoke about we're not here to give tax cuts to the rich. Something many Americans are interested in is whether the Bush-era tax cuts will be extended. As you know, the Republicans would like to extend them permanently. The Democrats have been talking about some sort of compromise.

Where do you stand on that at this point in time?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, the position that we have and - which is the position that the president has put forth - is that everybody should get a tax cut in our country. The problem comes when you give an additional tax cut to the wealthiest two percent that will heap $700 billion in debt onto our children and our grandchildren.

MONTAGNE: What about, though, a temporary extension for including a tax cut for those at the high end - a year, two years?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, our position in the House has been that we support the tax cut for the middle for everyone, but not an additional tax cut at the high end. It's too costly. Those tax cuts have been in effect for a very long time. They did not create jobs. In fact, with the tax cuts that President Obama had in the recovery package, we have now 10 straight months of private sector job growth. So from day one, President Obama and this Congress have been job creators, at the same time giving tax cuts to the middle class, which do create jobs.

MONTAGNE: I'm talking with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Madam Speaker, is there an opportunity for you now that you're in the minority and will be -well, to the public at least - less visible?

Rep. PELOSI: This isn't about me. Maybe the Republicans will take a course of action that will solve problems. God bless them if they do. But maybe they will pursue what they have said, which is to privatize Social Security, to make Medicare a voucher, to resist our initiatives. So it's not - the opportunity that is there is to have clarity. Maybe they will be more eloquent in defining themselves than we could have ever been in defining them.

MONTAGNE: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, talking to us from her office on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much for joining us.

Rep. PELOSI: Thank you, Renee. My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Of course, she spoke with our own Renee Montagne, and you can hear the entire conversation at npr.org.

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