Nancy Pelosi says President Trump is the reason she’s sticking around.
She’d be “gone by now” if Hillary Clinton had won in November, the House minority leader told reporters last week.
But with Mr. Trump in the White House and Obamacare under assault in Congress, the California Democrat says she’s not going anywhere.
And her troops in the House are lucky for it, said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, who said Mrs. Pelosi was a driving force behind passing the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, and is primed to defend it now.
“On the legacy side for Nancy especially, she was a stalwart,” Mr. Connolly said. “When it seemed like this thing was slipping away, she was the one who said, ‘Let’s go full-bore.’”
Mr. Connolly, however, warned against viewing the battle over Obamacare solely through the prism of Mrs. Pelosi.
“Though clearly it is an important part of her legacy, it is also part of the Democratic legacy,” he said. “This is part of the Democratic DNA.”
That legacy has been checkered.
Analysts say the law helped contribute to Democrats’ loss of the House in the 2010 elections, which ousted Mrs. Pelosi from her post as speaker of the House. Then the botched rollout of the exchanges in 2013 left both President Obama and congressional Democrats wounded heading into the 2014 elections.
“The legacy of the Obama-Pelosi partnership is one of a collapsing health care system and all three branches of government in Republican control,” said Kevin Sheridan, a GOP strategist. “Hard to make a case that it was a success.”
Mrs. Pelosi, while disputing the exact causes of the election setbacks, says it was worth it.
“Whatever the outcome of the election was, we expanded health care for many Americans,” she said Monday, putting Obamacare alongside Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as pillars of the American social safety net.
“I think the election was about more things. I think it was about TARP and Wall Street and the rest of that,” she said. “But the fact is, if in fact it were the case, it would be well worth it. I don’t think that anybody’s political survival is more important than the good health of the American people.”
Politicos have been predicting Mrs. Pelosi’s retirement from Congress for years, but she’s defied expectations after each election, remaining not only in the House, but serving as her party’s floor leader. Along the way she’s shepherded the House Democratic Caucus further to the left.
After last year’s election fiasco, she faced her toughest leadership challenge yet. She still easily overcame Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, in a 134-63 vote.
Speaking to reporters last week, Mrs. Pelosi said she had expected Mrs. Clinton to win the election — thereby ensuring the health care law was left in good hands.
“If she were there, then I would not worry about that,” Mrs. Pelosi said, adding that Mr. Trump’s win motivated her to stick around. “Again, I would have been gone by now had she won.”
Asked whether that meant that Mrs. Pelosi would have retired, or whether she was signaling her intent to step away from leadership, Drew Hammill, a spokesman, said he could not provide any clarification on her comments.
“She didn’t say,” Mr. Hammill said.
The Republican National Committee on Tuesday, meanwhile, circulated an op-ed that mocked the idea that Democrats are better off with Mrs. Pelosi’s hanging around and that highlighted how the party has lost 60 House seats on her watch.
Mr. Connolly said Mrs. Pelosi is the battle-tested leader Democrats need at this moment, arguing the party’s legacy is just as much tied up in Obamacare as her own.
“I think the skill set she showed in forging Democratic consensus and pushing through the health care law are the very skill sets frankly Democrats need right now,” Mr. Connolly said. “We have to be cohesive. We have got to speak with a strong and coherent voice in messaging, and we have to use every legislative tool we have got to respond to this dystopian Trump agenda.”