- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Baltimore native set to become the first female speaker in history, said Wednesday she would be “the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Democrats.”

Striking a tone of conciliation, she offered assurances that any effort to impeach President Bush “is off the table.” But said American voters “spoke for change and they spoke for a new direction for all Americans.”

Speaking at a news conference in the Capitol the morning after Democrats upended control of the House, she said voters specifically demanded a change in course on the war in Iraq and urged Bush “to listen to the voice of the people.”

“The one good place he could start… is to change the civilian leadership at the Pentagon,” she said, a reference to growing bipartisan demands that Bush replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Despite 12 years in the minority, Pelosi said Democrats would return to power without rancor, but with a forward looking vision. “Democrats are not about getting even,” she said. “Democrats are about helping Americans get ahead.”

“Democrats are prepared to lead,” she said in a news conference in the Capitol. “We are prepared to govern in a bipartisan way.”

Bush called Pelosi with congratulations Wednesday morning and invited her to lunch at the White House on Thursday.

Pelosi said she told Bush she was ready to work with him. “The success of the president is always good for the country, and I hope that we could work together for the American people. He said he thought that would happen and we would talk about it over lunch tomorrow.”

She said she had also just spoken to the man she will replace, current Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who she said was “very gracious” in defeat. “I said, ‘you know, I enjoyed so much giving him the gavel that I was looking forward to him having that pleasure.”’

Democrats, Pelosi said, “intend to lead the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history.”

She said the Democrats’ legislative priorities for the 110th Congress that opens in January include raising the minimum wage, adopting the 9/11 Commission’s anti-terrorism agenda and working for cheaper drug prices through Medicare’s prescription drug coverage.

Pelosi will be formally re-elected as her party’s leader, and its nominee to be speaker, when the Democratic caucus meets on Nov. 16 to choose its standard-bearers for the next Congress.

While Pelosi is unopposed, other leadership posts are being hotly contested. Current minority whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and leading Iraq war critic John Murtha of Pennsylvania are vying for the position of majority leader.

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is in line to become majority whip, but might be challenged by Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who as party campaign committee chairman directed the Democrats’ successful election effort.

Last night as voter results came in, she struck a conciliatory tone.

“The campaign is over. Democrats are ready to lead. We are prepared to govern,” she said Tuesday night. “We will do so working together with the administration and the Republicans in Congress in partnership, not in partisanship.”

Pelosi, 66, made history four years ago when she became the first woman to lead a party caucus in either house of Congress.

She is a liberal who represents one of the nation’s most liberal congressional districts, in San Francisco. Republicans had tried to use that against her. In races around the country, GOP partisans said the possibility of there being a “Speaker Pelosi” was reason enough to keep the House in Republican hands.

Pelosi, the daughter and sister of Baltimore mayors, grew up immersed in politics and moved west in her 20s when her investment banker husband wanted to return to his roots. She managed to work herself into California’s Democratic political structure while raising five children who were born over six years.

She didn’t run for Congress until she was 46, when her youngest daughter reached high school.

Twenty years later, Pelosi’s confident vision for House Democrats will be sorely tested in the messy business of making laws. But despite a consistently liberal voting record, Pelosi is also a pragmatist.

“She’s good at counting noses, which means that she’ll do everything she can to represent the whole caucus,” said Bruce Reed, president of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. “She’ll have to.”

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