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KWAME HOLMAN: Jim Ryun of Kansas easily won reelection to a fourth term in Congress last week. But there he was stumping for votes again yesterday afternoon just outside the large caucus room in the House Canon Office Building.
Parked just inside the door was Arizona’s fifth-term congressman J.D. Hayworth, searching for the same votes.
Each of the two Republicans was hoping to convince colleagues to elect him chairman of the Republican Conference, the number four leadership position in the House.
It was just one of several posts House Republicans were called on to decide yesterday.
But after several hours of closed-door nominations, speeches and votes, it wasn’t Ryun or Hayworth, but sixth-term Republican Deborah Pryce of Ohio who emerged as the new Republican Conference Chairman, the highest post ever held by woman in the party.
DEBORAH PRYCE: I’m just proud to say that we have concluded our leadership elections. We have a wonderful team to lead us through this upcoming Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: Illinois’ Dennis Hastert was elected unanimously to a third term as Speaker of the House, a vote that won’t be formalized until the 108th Congress convenes in January.
Missouri’s Roy Blunt was chosen to succeed Tom Delay as the Majority Whip. Delay, nicknamed the “Hammer” for his ability to keep Republicans from straying on key votes, encouraged Blunt to use the same tactic but with a softer touch.
TOM DELAY: And so I am going to present this velvet hammer to the new Majority Whip, and, Mr. Whip, I would just like to tell you that you ought to use both hands until you get used to it.
KWAME HOLMAN: DeLay, in turn, was elected Majority Leader, replacing Dick Armey, who is retiring from Congress.
DeLay is considered a staunch conservative, loyal to the president and his agenda.
TOM DELAY: You know, this leadership will hit the ground running, and it already has. We’re about to go back to pass the Homeland Security Bill. There are some other bills that we’re going to pass tomorrow. And we have the agenda, as the Speaker has said, that frankly was defined by the Senate Democrats not passing our agenda last time. Most of the agenda is sitting on the desk of Tom Daschle. We are going to pick up and pass and put it on the president’s desk, eliminate the marriage penalty and the death tax and those unfair taxes that the president’s package had, and, most importantly, drive this economy forward.
KWAME HOLMAN: House Democrats took their turn this morning. They entered the caucus room before 9:00 and locked themselves inside.
When the doors opened, history had been made again. Nancy Pelosi, a nine term Representative from San Francisco, had been elected Minority Leader, the first woman ever to lead her party in the Congress.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I’ve been waiting over 200 years for this, I didn’t run as a woman; I ran again as a seasoned politician and experienced legislator. It just so happens that I am a woman, and we have been waiting a long time for this moment.
KWAME HOLMAN: Pelosi served on the Appropriations and Select Intelligence Committees. She was elected Minority Whip earlier this year when Michigan David’s Bonior resigned the post to run for governor.
Last week Pelosi became the overwhelming choice to succeed Dick Gephardt, who after Democrats lost seats in the mid term election, decided to relinquish his leadership post.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: We are so excited about this election. Nancy Pelosi will do a fabulous job. She already has for our caucus, and we’re all excited about her leadership.
KWAME HOLMAN: There were concerns among some Democrats that Pelosi was too liberal to represent them. And so Harold Ford of Tennessee, a moderate, mounted a challenge against Pelosi. He would have become the first African-American to lead the party but his candidacy fell far short.
At Pelosi’s request, House Democrats elected John Spratt of South Carolina to be her assistant.
Steny Hoyer of Maryland was elected to replace Pelosi as Minority Whip.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, joining us from Capitol Hill for a Newsmaker interview is the newly elected House Minority Leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California. Welcome, Congresswoman, and congratulations.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the single most important thing you need to do to reverse the Democrats’ fortunes?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: It’s very important for the Democrats, indeed all of us in Washington, D.C., to understand what is happening in our economy and to put together a proposal for economic growth that enables everyone in our country to participate in economic success. It’s pretty clear that the Bush economic plan is not working. We have to know why, and as we proceed to find a remedy, we have to know what the problem is very clearly. So I think it’s about the economy and how Democrats come together, build consensus against… across the spectrum, and hopefully find some bipartisan solutions that we can agree on.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in the last Congress, even though Democrats controlled the Senate, still so many items in the Bush agenda passed the House on party line votes. Why would the Republicans be any more interested in compromising or finding a bipartisan agenda now?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think that the public interest is something that we all come to Washington to promote. Of course, I think the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that our… the public interest is our concern, and the Republicans more lean toward a special interest. But I do think that we have a responsibility. The American people expect and deserve us to work in a bipartisan fashion. I always say we have to find our common ground with the Republicans where we can, the public deserves that. Where we cannot find that common ground, we must stand our ground and fight for the public interest. So why the Republicans may want to be more responsible now is because they have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House, they have no excuse than to produce what they represented in the campaigns that they stood for, but which they thwarted on the floor of the House over and over again in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: You did make that comment about finding common ground or standing your ground today when you were talking about dealing with President Bush’s agenda. Where would you find common ground with him?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I think that we all stand shoulder to shoulder with President Bush in the war against terrorism. I’m the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, I’ve worked closely with the White House and with the Republicans in Congress on that very important– and I might add– clear and present danger to the United States. So on issues that relate to protecting us, our national security issues, to protect the American people, on those issues of safety to the American people, there is no difference. On the soundness issue of our economy, there is a… we do have some areas of disagreement.
The Democrats, the newly elected Democrats will come together shortly. We’ll get down to work, drawing upon the considerable intellectual basis that we have within our party, reaching out to others for other ideas to propose an economic growth proposal for every American to participate in the… no guarantee, but the opportunity to participate in the success of our economy.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, last night, the House passed a homeland security bill. You had voted against it in July, in the summer, but you voted for it last night. Was this a reflection of the election in which the President apparently successfully painted the Democrats as more protective of the civil service labor unions than of American security, or that’s the way he put it?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, I think it’s just about the legislative process. As we vote in different stages along the way, we hope that Congress will work its will in a way that will improve legislation. I had hoped that we could come out with a Department of Homeland Security that would be leaner and not 170,000 employees– more than most cities in America have, by the way, and the… more people. In any case, I was very concerned about some of the civil liberties protections that we had worked to put in the bill really with the leadership of Dick Armey; the Majority Leader was a very staunch champion for civil liberties. We worked together on that. They were retained in the bill, although I did not like the makeup of the department. And I might add, the GAO has said it will take five to seven years to get it up and running, so I hope we can come up with something leaner. But nonetheless, that’s why I voted for it.
MARGARET WARNER: But last night’s vote on the homeland security bill and the deal that’s also apparently been made in the Senate, does that signal, do you think, that at least on the war on terror, on homeland security in the coming Congress the president is going to pretty much get his way?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I do think that in almost every case that the Democrats stand shoulder to shoulder with the president. There were some provisions of a bill, but that did not mean as was characterized by the Republicans in the campaign that the Democrats were not staunch supporters of homeland security. So let’s just take away that argument about certain provisions in the bill and move on to protect the American people. It isn’t… has never been a question, and I don’t think the president would say that he hasn’t received full cooperation on issues relating to preventing terrorism. It is a clear and present danger, and we must be together fighting it. And so let’s just get this bill on its way and not make a political issue of it, as the Republicans did during the campaign.
MARGARET WARNER: Now turning to issues in which you might want to stand your ground, if the president pushes, as he has said he’s going to, to have his ten-year tax cut made permanent, is that the kind of thing that House Democrats would fight?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: As I’ve said over and over again, the Bush economic plan has not worked. It does not inspire confidence in the markets or in the consumers. So we have to know what… we have to have a diagnosis of what’s wrong with this economy in order to come up with a proper remedy. I will put everything on the table. Hopefully there will be some areas where we can find common ground with the Republicans. Some want to redirect some of the tax cuts to give them more to the middle class or to small businesses so they can give health benefits to their employees. Others want to have a holiday on the payroll tax.
There are any number of suggestions that have come up. What we have to do is put them to the test: Do they promote economic growth? Will they create jobs? Do they enable many more Americans to participate in the economic success that we hope will follow? So if some of those are Republican initiatives, politics aside, that’s what we would embrace. But we must… we must have a diagnosis, and use the best intelligence that we have internally and outside the Congress to base our judgments on.
MARGARET WARNER: You were opposed for this position or challenged for this position by Harold Ford from the moderate or centrist wing of the party, a younger member who said– and others had also said– they feared that you would pull the party too far to the left and present too liberal a face for the party. What was your response to that in your private meetings with party members, and what do you say to that now?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think any labeling of people as liberal or this or that when it comes to a leader really isn’t appropriate. What is appropriate is how the leader can lead, can bring people together to reach consensus, to have a clear message, to win elections for the good of the American people. I think the election speaks for itself. Over 85 percent of my colleagues along philosophical, geographical and generational lines voted to support my candidacy. I think they think I can lead. That’s why they voted for me, and I’m absolutely delighted to have the privilege of being a leader for this Democratic Party, which has been the source of more new ideas, more creative leadership, and more challenges to the conscience of the United States than any other organization you can name. And what’s more, it looks like America.
MARGARET WARNER: So briefly, you don’t agree, then, with the Washington Post’s characterization today that your election is a sign of a liberal resurgence sweeping the party?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Absolutely not. It’s not about leader. Every one of us represents our district, and we do so with respect for our constituents. When you’re elected leader, that is your name. You’re now leader to bring people together, to lead to victory, to build consensus. It’s a different role. I don’t know why people don’t understand that, but it’s very clear to the members inside the caucus. That’s why over 85 percent of them voted for me today, while they come from all different philosophical backgrounds within the party.
MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman Pelosi, thanks.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: Thank you very much.
MARGARET WARNER: We asked the new Majority Leader, Republican Tom DeLay, to join us tonight, but he was not available. We hope to have him on soon.