House Democrats Say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Born For This Moment In History Pelosi faced questions over whether her time as the top Democratic leader in the House was done. She has since silenced those critics.
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How House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Steered A Split Democratic Caucus To Unity

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How House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Steered A Split Democratic Caucus To Unity

How House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Steered A Split Democratic Caucus To Unity

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NOEL KING, HOST:

At the beginning of this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was facing a lot of questions. Could she lead the Democrats? How would she handle President Trump? In 2019, there have been intraparty fights, a government shutdown, skirmishes with the Republicans and, of course, impeachment. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales talked to Democrats about Pelosi's return to speaker of the House.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: It wasn't that long ago that House Democrats didn't know who would lead them. They were warring over the speakership just days after the 2018 midterm elections handed them back the majority. But Nancy Pelosi was certain of her fate.

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NANCY PELOSI: I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House.

GRISALES: But moderates in her party weren't so sure. Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota was part of a wave of new members who flipped districts that Trump won in 2016, and he wasn't a Pelosi fan initially.

DEAN PHILLIPS: I came here intending - intending - to find new leadership.

GRISALES: But he was persuaded to vote for Pelosi and now calls it one of the most meaningful decisions in his political career.

PHILLIPS: Thank goodness that we have Nancy Pelosi speaking for the House of Representatives because I do not think there is a better, more qualified, more principal and more effective person for these times and these circumstances than she is.

GRISALES: Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton was one of the most public critics who tried to elect someone else as speaker, but he also fell in line and now joins others heaping on the praise.

SETH MOULTON: She kept the party together through an incredibly contentious and difficult time.

GRISALES: Her longtime allies on Capitol Hill agree. Debbie Dingell of Michigan says Pelosi knows how to lead a rambunctious group of lawmakers.

DEBBIE DINGELL: She took up one of the most diverse caucuses in the history of this country, people with lots of intense, strong, emotional passions, different thoughts and brought us together.

GRISALES: Another reason House Democrats are united behind Pelosi is how she's handled Trump. Here's Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: The one person - of course, the only woman, too - to stand up in the Oval Office and point to the president of the United States and take him to task.

GRISALES: Speaker Pelosi met one of her biggest challenges as calls for impeachment from within her caucus grew. Many on the left wanted action after special counsel Robert Mueller found instances the president obstructed an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Pelosi strongly resisted, saying impeachment needed to have support from Republicans and the public.

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PELOSI: I don't think there's anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States.

GRISALES: But that changed when a whistleblower said the president was pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival in exchange for congressionally approved military aid. Once Pelosi got onboard with impeachment, she led her caucus through a contentious process. But that wasn't all. She also helped negotiate a major trade deal and a massive bipartisan spending package. Here's Schakowsky again.

SCHAKOWSKY: I think that she runs circles as a strategist around pretty much everybody.

GRISALES: Even though impeachment is what helped bring her caucus together, she's rejected that's what her legacy will be. Pelosi at a recent CNN town hall stressed how she got a major health care bill passed.

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PELOSI: No. I want to be part - remembered as part of the Affordable Care Act, about - I want to be...

GRISALES: Pelosi doesn't seem worried about her legacy. She has her hands full keeping her caucus together as they head into another partisan national election in 2020. How she handles that will determine whether she'll remain speaker. Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington.

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