‘I’m emancipated now’: Nancy Pelosi enjoying life after leadership
March 22, 2023 Updated Wed., March 22, 2023 at 7:59 p.m.
Former U.S. Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks to reporters inside the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 27 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images North America/TNS)
WASHINGTON – “Now we’re going to have some fun,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi says enthusiastically, winning a giggle from her daughter.
It’s a little past 6:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday. The former House speaker is sitting in a packed black SUV with a reporter on her left, a driver and a member of her security detail in the front, and her daughter Christine and two top congressional aides squeezed into the backseat.
The group is en route from the Swedish Embassy, where Pelosi was the keynote speaker at an event supporting Ukraine, to the St. Regis Hotel for “Thank You, Madam Speaker,” a reception celebrating her legacy.
The Los Angeles Times spent a day with Pelosi, D-Calif., and her team to see how the former House speaker is adjusting to life outside of leadership. She began it with ice cream for breakfast and finished it church-style dancing to a performance of the Resistance Revival Chorus.
“You never can dance too much,” she advises.
This is Pelosi in her newest chapter, living her best life without the stresses of having to steer congressional Democrats past political pitfalls and through policy quicksand. Her colleagues say she’s essentially a national congresswoman – a woman who represents a single district but has a platform that extends far beyond the borders of San Francisco – and is someone other Democrats look to for advice and wisdom.
Pelosi, 82, insists that she’s not looking over the shoulder of the new leadership team she paved the way for. She says she’s enjoying her new freedom as Nancy on the Hill instead of the speaker of the House.
Pelosi’s new role is a mixed bag, though. She’s able to speak her mind more freely, but she still wants to pick and choose her moments because she no longer speaks for the House Democratic Caucus. She’s given up the 24/7 schedule of a party leader, but she has to find new ways to fill her calendar because she has no committee assignments and loathes downtime. And as she’s traded in her leadership title for the honorific speaker emerita, Pelosi has lost the bulk of her staff and coveted office space.
Pelosi has served in Congress since she won a special election in the summer of 1987. She spent two decades in leadership, including two historic stints as the first – and so far only – female speaker of the House. She announced in November that she would step down from leadership but continue to represent her San Francisco district in Congress.
Rep. Joseph William Martin Jr., R-Mass., in the 1950s was the last top House Republican or Democrat to leave their leadership post and complete another term in Congress. Pelosi is carving out a new role in Congress without modern precedent, and making it up as she goes.
Congressional leaders have to be cognizant of how their words will play beyond their individual districts.
Now that she’s freed of that obligation, Pelosi feels unbound and unfettered, she says.
She digs into her lunch, a foil-wrapped hot dog with mustard and relish.
“I’m,” she says, leaning in and speaking with a whisper, “emancipated now!”
Her full voice returns: “Liberated! Freedom! Free at last!”
She says she’s been busy since leaving leadership but found time in January to see a pair of plays – “Leopoldstadt” and the last show of “The Music Man” – and San Francisco jazzman Chris Botti. Going to the theater wouldn’t have been possible if she were still Democratic leader, she says; she likely would’ve been traveling.
She has other news. “I haven’t had time yet,” she says, “but I’m writing a book.”
She doesn’t provide any details about her book but says to read it. She’ll be fair, she adds with a laugh.
With her newfound freedom, Pelosi also intends to be more vocal about preserving the nation’s democracy. “I probably will be saying some things about our democracy and what the Republicans and the court have done to narrow it,” she says.
She condemns the decision of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to hand over 41,000 hours of Jan. 6, 2021, surveillance footage to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who told his audience that the attack on the Capitol was “mostly peaceful chaos.”
McCarthy’s decision, she says, was thoughtless, dangerous and reckless. She deploys that term – “reckless” – a half-dozen times within a 20-second span.
“That was in keeping with their home address: reckless,” she says. “That’s what all roads lead to with the Republicans: reckless.”
Pelosi has a hideaway – a secret space inside the House where she hosts meetings – and an office in the Longworth House Office Building. Her hideaway sends conflicting messages about who Pelosi wants to be at this stage of her career. A sign above the entrance reads “Ms. Pelosi.” Along the same wall are two gavels, one of which is in a display case, memorializing the passage of the American Rescue Plan. Farther down the room is a wall where flags flank a government seal acknowledging Pelosi’s title as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Inside her office in Longworth is a glimpse of her news diet: two stacks of newspapers from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Politico, the Hill and Roll Call. A table full of self-portraits awaiting her signature offer further proof that she’s no ordinary member of Congress.
Though Pelosi is no longer in leadership, a security detail follows her movements across the Capitol and the capital city. Her office is adorned with numerous awards, medals and plaques, some of which sit on the floor, demonstrating that the honors she’s accumulated over a decadeslong career stretch beyond the limits of her new office space – or that her dramatically downsized staff has been too busy to find them a home.
Pelosi takes pains never to mention former President Donald Trump by name. “Don’t write that down,” she says after letting the T-word slip out during lunch. “Just say she burped.”
After lunch, Pelosi pops into a drop-by meeting with some of her San Francisco constituents, then heads back to her office to catch President Joe Biden’s speech outlining his budget proposal. She sits in a chair positioned just a few feet from an entertainment center with four small Samsung TVs inside. On the top left screen is MSNBC’s broadcast of the president’s address. On the bottom left screen is C-SPAN2, where the Senate is taking up a judicial nominee.
Pelosi can’t resist coaching the president, even though he can’t hear or see her.
She groans when Biden alludes to Trump as “the former president – and maybe future president.”
“Oh, please. Don’t even say such a thing,” she says. “That isn’t kidding. That’s horrible.”
Pelosi, who rises about 15 minutes into the speech to snack on a large chocolate chip cookie, gives the president light applause at different moments of his address, but also tries to will him into pivoting back toward the camera after turning his back to it, wagging her index finger in a circle as she urges him to turn around.
“I love being a member of Congress,” she said. “It’s actually fun.”
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