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Nancy Pelosi Becomes First Female House Speaker

As Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House, the NewsHour traces her journey from homemaker to big-time fundraiser to one of the most powerful women in Washington.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Nancy Pelosi used political skills honed over more than 30 years to help engineer the Democrats' 2006 victory, which not only brought her party to power in Congress, but gave her the top job in the House, and made her the highest-ranking elected woman in U.S. history.

    It was a long road from 1987, when, at the age of 47, she first ran for Congress in San Francisco, against an array of better-known candidates.


    They'll take the low road, and I'll take the high road, and I'll get to Congress before them.


    Active as a Democrat for many years behind the scenes, she was a big-time fundraiser for the party and had a major hand in the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco.

    In the '87 local race, Pelosi was the best-financed candidate. She also gathered an impressive list of endorsers who were indebted to her, including Maryland's newly elected senator, Barbara Mikulski.

    SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), Maryland: And I was out there going earring-to-earring with Linda Chavez. She had Ronald Reagan, and I had Nancy Pelosi.


    Pelosi was a favorite of San Francisco's politically liberal and powerful Burton family, headed by Congressman Phillip Burton, who built coalitions in the diverse city.

    FORMER REP. PHILLIP BURTON (D), California: I've got the support of the gays and the cops, as well. Ain't that?


    After his death, Burton's wife, Sala, replaced her husband in Congress. Philip's brother, John, also a former congressman, and longtime party activist Agar Jaicks recalled how Sala Burton, on her deathbed, anointed Nancy Pelosi to succeed her.

  • JOHN BURTON, Former California Democratic Leader:

    Sala's laying there. And, you know, she was a fairly zaftig woman. Well, she was in pain from cancer, and she said, "I called you here because I want you to help Nancy."

    And she launches into this thing like she's nominating a president, that she's smart, she's tough, she's good on the issues, she's organizational, she understands — and, I mean, everything that we see now, I mean, she had Nancy Pelosi pegged right down to her socks.

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