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Nancy Pelosi is confident that come January she will be speaker of the House. That requires Democrats to take back control of the House, of course. It also means she'd have to win a leadership vote with her new caucus. She sounded bullish about both when she spoke to NPR's Scott Detrow during a campaign swing here in California.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Nancy Pelosi is fed up.
NANCY PELOSI: It is the least important question you could ask, with all due respect to your list of questions there.
DETROW: But she's been hearing it all year and so have many Democratic candidates.
PELOSI: You wake up each day thinking, what can I do to advance what I believe in to make the future better? And then some reporter comes up to you and says, who are you going to vote for for leader?
DETROW: Without a Democrat in the White House, Republicans have made Pelosi a central theme of their campaigns.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: O'Connor is a vote to make Nancy Pelosi speaker. On August 7, we can stop the Pelosi-O'Connor liberal agenda.
DETROW: At the same time, a vocal Democratic call for new leadership is getting attention. Talking to NPR after another busy day of campaigning, Pelosi dismisses it all.
PELOSI: The most important thing is, what does this election mean to the American people?
DETROW: Democrats want voters to think it's about this - lower health care costs and broader access as well as a Democratic check on President Trump's power. So Pelosi is raising a lot of money, approaching $100 million, to help them get that message out.
PELOSI: It's really exciting. Are you excited? I think...
DETROW: The night before, she's standing next to the pool in the backyard of a massive Laguna Beach mansion. The hundred-thousand-dollar fundraiser is for Harley Rouda, the Democrat who's trying to defeat Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher. She tells the crowd she's confident Democrats will win but that the margins will be close.
PELOSI: Will it be a tsunami, or will it be a wave? And I said, well, you know, in either case, it's tiny little drops of water and all of them very close races.
DETROW: The biggest difference between Republican and Democratic House control would likely be oversight. Democrats would have power to investigate the White House.
PELOSI: You will see us use every arrow in our quiver to find the truths about what's happening with public policy, what they're doing to the environment, as we see this as a culture of corruption, cronyism and incompetence.
DETROW: But while many Democratic voters want the party to use that power to begin impeachment proceedings, Pelosi and other leaders are much more cautious. That contrast was on display at an event Pelosi held with Rouda's campaign volunteers. One woman pleaded for pragmatism in a question to Pelosi; another, impeachment. Pelosi says she's used to navigating that divide.
PELOSI: That's, you know, creative tension as we call it.
DETROW: And former New York Congressman Steve Israel says that's exactly why Pelosi needs to continue leading Democrats.
STEVE ISRAEL: I don't know of anybody other than Nancy Pelosi who has been able to knit together the coalition necessary to reflect the fundamental values of Democrats and get things done.
DETROW: But it's clear many Democrats in close races are worried about Pelosi's effect on voters. Just look at the district she was campaigning in. Before the event, one of Rouda's staffers reminds the crowd...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're asking folks not to post anything on social media.
DETROW: And even as he fundraises with her, Rouda won't say whether he'd vote for Pelosi as speaker. Here he is on ABC News earlier this summer.
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HARLEY ROUDA: You know, I get asked that question a lot. And the reality is I've got one mission right now and that's to defeat Dana Rohrabacher in November and then make it to Congress, figure out where my office is, and then we'll go from there.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: That's a real political answer. That was a real dodge.
ROUDA: That's why I'm ready to go.
DETROW: So is her leadership vulnerable? Pelosi bats the question away.
PELOSI: We have 430 candidates. How many have you heard from?
DETROW: The latest count from NBC News stands at more than 50. And it won't be clear until November which candidates would be there to vote. So Pelosi says she isn't worried.
PELOSI: I'm a numbers person when it comes to counting votes for legislation, passing the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, the list goes on - Wall Street reform and the rest. And I'm a numbers person when it comes to my own possibilities in the Congress.
DETROW: For the next two months, the most important number to Pelosi is 23. That's the net number of new seats Democrats need to win to take back control of the House.
Scott Detrow, NPR News.
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