Pelosi Takes the Gavel

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Amid much hoopla on Capitol Hill, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) takes over as the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. She's a tough-minded politician who is now a powerful symbol.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

After her election, after standing at the speaker's desk - surrounded by congressional children and grandchildren, including her own caucus of grandchildren - Nancy Pelosi launched a 100-hour initiative. The series of democratic moves intended to satisfy the demands for change made by an angry electorate in November.

First thing was a package of changes to tighten ethics and lobbying regulations in the House. Our local rag, the Washington Post, called it the broadest revision since Watergate.

Leading up to the day, Pelosi threw a party, in fact, quite a few parties in quite a few places. Most of them were fundraisers, but one of the most coveted invitations was to a tea party honoring Pelosi and the women of the House and Senate. Imagine - tea and cookies with the new speaker of the House, a woman.

There were hundreds of women at the Capitol Thursday to celebrate the historic event. There were cheers and enormous grins everywhere. Women of both parties couldn't stop smiling. The day reminded me of the Democratic convention that nominated Geraldine Ferraro to be the Democratic vice presidential candidate. That day, too, was thrilling for all the women there to see that kind of possibility opening.

Pelosi said Thursday that the marble ceiling was broken. The sky is the limit, she said, her daughters and granddaughters now. But behind her bright smile and rather romantic rhetoric is a very tough-minded politician. Pelosi was educated in her craft by both old-fashioned machine pols in Maryland and liberal reformers in California.

She had a lot to do with the Democrats retaking the House. And as we've seen, she can mistakes as she did when she backed John Murtha of Pennsylvania for majority leader, despite his considerable ethical baggage. She's loyal to friends and unforgiving to enemies. Brought up in politics, she's forgotten more than most of us know about how things really work.

But the picture I'll take from the day that the first woman became the speaker of the House is Nancy Pelosi standing on the House floor while the vote was tallied with her newest grandchild, a tiny baby, cuddled in one arm, while she greeted well-wishers, shaking hands, kissing colleagues, excitement swirling around her - like every mother and grandmother we know, taking care of the baby and taking care of business. In her case, Nancy Pelosi was making history, and the baby slept on.

(Soundbite of song, "Dancing in the Street")

Ms. MARTHA REEVES (Singer): (Singing) Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat? Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets. Dancing in Chicago, and down in New Orleans, in New York City. All we need is music, sweet music, they'll be...

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