House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi traveled to Tucson yesterday to stump on behalf of Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, the former congresswoman who is facing Republican Lea Marquez Peterson in the race for Southern Arizona’s open Congressional District 2 seat, which is one of the most competitive in the country. Pelosi praised Kirkpatrick for having the courage to vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, despite the political consequences. “We can’t wait to have her back,” Pelosi said. “She’ll be effective right from the start.”
The Weekly had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Pelosi following her pep talk to Team Kirkpatrick volunteers. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
How confident are you that the Democrats will take the House next week?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: "I'm confident that we will win. What the size of it is, I don't know. But we will win."
I'm confident that we will win. What the size of it is, I don't know. But we will win. I didn't even start making a prediction until last Tuesday. Up until then, I would say that “If the election were held today.” But now, I see the apparatus at work, what's happening at the ground all over the country, the purpose of our candidates. They know why they're running. They know what they care about. They know how to communicate with it. So I have confidence in them. Our mobilization on the ground, our message, everybody's sticking with it. Lower health care, bigger paycheck, cleaner government.
There are many hurdles for Democrats baked into the structure of the district maps thanks to gerrymandering and other factors. Given those challenges, why do you think Democrats are in such a strong position?
Because of the caliber of our candidates and the on-the-ground mobilization, and then our message. People are sticking with the message and not taking his bait on whatever it is. And I said to candidates and to incumbents who are candidates, too, it's not about the president. It's about what you have to offer versus the other person. I don't like to call people opponents; the person on the other side. What they have to offer, when it comes to the financial security of America's working families, healthcare costs, increasing their paycheck, and value of work, and giving them confidence that their voice is as important as anybody's by reducing the role of money in politics. Integrity in government. And so, that message is resonating. Mobilization, message and the third: money. We just totally outraised them: $100 million just from the small donors from online fundraising.
How important do you think the female vote is in this election?
Essential. Women are so smart. We're just so smart. The gender gap is large all over the country. Maybe 15 points.
When you’re on the outside looking in, it seems like Republicans and Democrats are at each other's throats these days. From the inside, are relations less tense when you meet with your counterparts from across the aisle?
Well, we have personal friendships, that's for sure. Not as many as we would have had before Trump because the Trump phenomenon or whatever you want to call it—they're strictly all the way with Trump. There's nothing that he has been about—name any subject, guns, immigration, women's right to choose, LGBTQ, fairness in our economy, climate. Name a subject. Republicans have been there longer and worse. So, he's their guy. So, they're completely sympatico, and that motivated them to pass a tax bill that has trillions of dollars of impact on our economy. In the dark of night and the speed of light, without any hearings, without listening to what ramifications it could have, by vastly increasing the deficit, robbing from our children's future, and they were all sympatico with that. That's what he wanted. That's what they got. Rubber stamp. And so, it's hard. But people are people, and we have our relationships regionally from our states or like in the Women's Caucus. It's like a giant kaleidoscope. One day, you and I will be on the same side of the issue. The next day, the two of you will be, and I'll be over here with somebody else, but we're always a resource to each other as we turn that wheel. I work with the Republicans all the time on human rights and religious freedom throughout the world. So, there are some issues that pull us together.
Today, we seem to have more tribal politics than we've had in the past. How do Republicans and Democrats find common ground to break through the gridlock that seems to be gripping Washington?
I have never really quite understood the tribal thing. We're different political parties. We have different views of government and that been called tribal. I have a couple of answers. The first one is the public. Let's just let the public know what the vote is. Why are you hiding this? Why are you disguising and misrepresenting it? Let the public see what is happening. That's why transparency is so important. So I think, again, as Lincoln said, public sentiment is everything. With it you can accomplish almost anything. So, I think the public visibility helps bring people together. And we could pass a gun-violence prevention bill with the background checks in a bipartisan way right now today. We could pass a bill to protect the Dreamers in a bipartisan way right now today. I'm not talking about after the election. I'm talking about right now today. So, there's some things that we can do together if the leadership of the Republican Party will allow it to happen. And they only allow, I guess, what President Trump wants to happen. I don't know, but I know they are not allowing it to happen. They're a rubber stamp. So, I think one is public sentiment. And I do really believe that the president is talking about the press being an enemy of the people and he doesn't want to see a common collective consciousness about things. He wants to put everything in doubt. I think that's very dangerous for a country. But the opposite of that, where people do come together, almost involuntarily, are the arts. I always said the arts will bring us together because you enjoy music, you laugh at something, you cry at something, you're inspired by something. It has nothing to do with politics. It softens the edges of some of the debate. I've never seen anything quite like the President calling the press the enemy of the people, really acting in violation of the system of checks and balances, undermining the Constitution that he took an oath to uphold. Then again, it's not about him. It's about the other members of Congress. That's what we're trying to do—to win the House to be a check.
Do you think the talk of the caravan is the latest effort to gin up outrage about immigration?
It's a scare tactic. Trump knows he's getting clobbered by suburban women. Suburban women care a great deal about security. So, how do they frame the caravan? 900 miles away from here and walking. How many people are going to reach our border? Most of them, if they're economic refugees, they're not going to have any moment. It's only about unfounded fear of persecution that has any chance of having that an asylum claim to refugee status. Even the evangelicals, they testified before our hearings. The United States refugee program is the crown jewel of America's humanitarianism. Evangelicals love Trump because of the court and all that, but not on this subject.
What kind of compromise legislation on immigration do you think is possible in the Congress next year?
Well, we sit down and negotiate and see. I wouldn't show my bottom line right now. But I do think that we have to listen. Again, Democrats are bipartisan. That's who we are. That's just the way it is. We have confidence in our ideas but the humility to listen. We'll just see. So many times we mess ourselves up when we show our bottom line. So many times when you negotiate with him, you say, "Oh, can we yield on that and you yield on this and do that?" And they'll say, "I'm walking away from my side of it," and you're already down the road.
What about health care? You don't obviously have time to take a deep dive into the Affordable Care Act, but what parts of it do you think are working at this point?
Well, I think the Affordable Care Act is great. I think it was a challenge of a generation. Of 100 years. They tried to pass health care so it would stand right there with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act. It's now eight years later? A kind of a bill like that affects so many people, involves resources, should always be subjected to review. And I knew at the time, there were more things I wanted that I couldn't get from the Senate, like a public option. We had it in the House; they didn't have it in the Senate. But I do think that one big change that I would make right now, first of all, we would nail down what is there. They say they’re for (protections for) pre-existing conditions. It's such a joke. They are taking it to court. And the federal government is not defending the law of the land in court, saying, "We're joining you in opposition to the law of the land." That's really fraudulent. And for them to say they voted for it, it's so fraudulent. It's almost sad. You almost don't even want to engage them because it's like, how can they not tell the truth about their own votes, which are a fact? One thing I would change, which I knew then, is to make those at a higher income level eligible for subsidies. Because that's where some of the people fall through the cracks. I would make it higher. Of course, with the governors who are going to win in this election, we'll have more expansion of Medicaid, and that will cover many more people, too.
You've been at this for a long time. You've certainly heard the calls for new blood in Democratic leadership. Why do you—to coin a phrase—persist?
I would not have persisted if Hillary had won. I'm very proprietary about the Affordable Care Act. You may have noticed that. So, I knew it would've been protected with a woman at the table. I didn't think she was going to win. I knew she was going to win. That's what gets people scared now. They're like, "Well, we knew then." That was different. This is discrete districts. None of us is indispensable, but I do think I'm the best person for the job. I'm a master legislator. Policy-wise, I know my stuff. I never intended to run for leadership, so I took a deep dive into policies and the Appropriations Committee and the Intelligence Committee. I didn't serve with (former House Speaker) Tip O’Neill, but neither he nor anybody after him, on either side of the aisle, has a security credential. What they've done to the Intelligence Committee to make it partisan, it's almost sinful. It's unpatriotic. So anyway, from the standpoint of policy, I know my stuff. It enables me to be master legislator. In terms of politics, we won in ’05 and ’06, and nobody thought we would win. I was tired of losing. That's why I ran for leadership. I'm tired of losing. I know how to win. Let me show you. And then I became Speaker. A month from now, we’re going to be in a presidential race. But we will still be showing how we would conduct government. So, I know the politics and part of that is just having a plan, having a vision for our country, having a plan on how to win, and that attracts the resources. So, I'm a dazzling fundraiser.
Ever more important these days.
Well, I wish it weren't. My goal is to reduce that. It's an organizing tool. And you know, we have to win the White House, to get different judges, to get something done. It's a long road for some of these things, but the time does go by. Anyway, I know the policy and the politics, and my motivation is about the people. Everybody has their why. Why do you do this? Well, I have five kids. My husband and I have five kids. The fact that one in five children lived in poverty and went to sleep hungry at night, I just can't tolerate that. So, that's my motivation every day. What are we gonna do for the future? For our children? Whether it's their health, their education, the economic security of their families, clean, safe environment, the air they breathe ... these people are degrading the air that their children breathe. Do their children not breathe air? So, it's the policy. I know it. I outsmart them all the time. They ran over 100,000 ads in this election against me. Over 130,000, something like that, against me because they had nothing to offer. Nothing to offer. But my numbers are no worse than theirs. They're about the same. Everybody's like the high 20s. When you run for vice president, they spend about $1 billion promoting you and Mitt Romney. And your numbers are worse than mine. But you can't let the opponents choose your leaders. You just can't do that. And you can't, as a woman, turn away from the fight. And you can't, as a woman, let anybody minimize your contribution.