5 Questions For: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on women’s issues and money in politics

By Megan Carpentier
Tuesday, September 4, 2012 10:56 EDT
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[Image via Leader Pelosi on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed.]
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Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was the first female Speaker of the House and, when the House majority became Republican in 2010, she remained House Minority Leader for the Democratic caucus. She convened a roundtable discussion with bloggers at the Democratic National Convention on Monday. Raw Story only got two questions in, but we included a third asked by BlogHer’s Grace Hwang Lynch.

Raw Story: To talk a little about about the women’s issues that have come up all of a sudden… In 2008, noe of these issues were on the table in a big way and now all of a sudden it’s about abortion, it’s about birth control, it’s all of these things the Republicans are going after. Why now?

Pelosi: Well, women’s issues have always been a part of our Democratic agenda, and we’ve been advocates for women in the work place, Lilly Ledbetter was the first bill that we placed on the President’s desk in early 2009. The issue of a woman’s right to choose, issues about violence against women, all of those, and even going further in the workplace with Paycheck Fairness, which we passed but which the Republicans stopped and did not allow to be brought up in the Senate. So women’s issues for us are central. We really do believe that our economy benefits with more women active in business in leadership roles, our military benefits, our academic, our health care, every aspect that you can name, including and starting with probably our politics, our political system and our government benefits with more women. So this is a pillar of who we are. It may be new to them.

But it was interesting how they talked about loving their wives and mothers, and that meant something about women, who wish they would respect and trust the judgment of women to determine the size and timing of their own families. That would be, I think, a more articulate way of saying to women, “We trust you, we respect you.” But that’s not what they had in their platform, as you know. They go very far in their platform to disrespect women.

We’ve very proud, we’ll present our women in Congress, we’ll have the House one day and the Senate another with the issues that we’ve talked about here.

Raw Story: Just to follow up on this idea. Republicans kept saying to me in Tampa, “These aren’t economic issues. Birth control is not an economic issue. Contraception is not an economic issue.” But for women this is an economic issue, right, if you have to stay home with eight children because you can’t make those choices?

Pelosi: Women can determine the size and timing of their family and the impact that has on their own empowerment in terms of furthering their education, their training, their ability to succeed in the work place. I would add one more thing to it as we will [Tuesday] in the presentation, and that is: if we’re going to truly unleash the power of women, we have to do two things. One is we have to have affordable, affordable, quality child care, which is something we’ve been fighting for. And the other is we have to reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility. And if we do, I promise you, you’ll have more women, more young people, more minorities elected to public office faster and that’s wholesome for our country. But so far we’ve been playing on a playing field or in an environment that was created not for women, and we had to create our own environment, stop the incrementalism, and kick the door open to go for much more.

What’s interesting, though, is to hear the Republicans talk about the role of government, that it should be cut back: clean air, clean water, food safety, public safety, public education, public transportation, health, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security — except when it comes to a woman’s right to choose, they want to be right there in your bedroom with you. I respect them for their anti-government ideology — I don’t like it, but at least they’re true to their beliefs. But then they make a departure and say to women, “We don’t trust your judgment, let us do that for you.”

BlogHer: I’d like to ask, you’ve been talking a lot about trying to get more seats for Democrats in the House this election cycle. What about the role, is there any place for talking across the aisle, is there any way to influence that, or is the goal simply, realistically just to get the shift of the House?

Pelosi: I think the President made a valiant effort and many overtures to talk across the aisle and I think from Day 1, the Republicans made it clear that they were not going to cooperate and they wanted him to fail. Not in the election, but as President. In the election, that’s a whole other thing, we all want our candidate to succeed and that’s the democratic way. But when the election has taken place…

Think of Governor Romney saying, “We he was elected, we wanted him to succeed.” No, they didn’t! Before he was even sworn in, they said no. They said no. And what was it no to? No to “How can we work together for your priorities.” “For your priorities?” to the Republicans, “How can we work together.” “No!” So they were disingenuous on many scores and people have words for that that I won’t use right now.

Right now, in this campaign, the idea is to win as many Democrats as possible. Twenty-five is the threshold we have to cross in order to win the House for the American people, that’s how we see it. For the one in five children who lives in poverty, I spoke of some of these issues before, for job creation, for reigniting the American dream. That’s our theme, you’ll see our video — can you just not wait? — [Tuesday] night. Maybe we’ll put it out tomorrow, but we’ll show it on Wednesday at the convention. It’s about reigniting the American dream, it’s America’s story about working hard, playing by the rules, taking responsibility, removing barriers to success so that everyone can succeed. And when you succeed, to throw that ladder back down, that ladder of opportunity for someone else. That is a very major difference between the two parties. After the election, hopefully we will win. I know the President will win, and the American people will insist on more cooperation.

But, again, if you have endless money, special interests, private money that has an transactional approach to politics — “I’m giving you this money. I can give you $400 million if you’re going to give me $2 billion in tax breaks on my estate tax. I can give you tens of millions of dollars if I’m going to get billions of dollars of tax breaks for big oil.” The list goes on, it’s very transactional.

The Democrats are very idealistic. I traveled the country and raised money from people who just want good government and most of our money comes from small donors. But having said that, I think we should get rid of all of it. Not the small donors, but I’ve issued a DARE.

Disclose: “I’m Nancy Pelosi and I approved this message.” I have to say that. How come the Koch Brothers and whatever his name is in Las Vegas and all the rest of them, when they put up the money for an ad, they don’t have to be identified as who they are, where they are? Koch Brothers, big oil, whatever that is.

Amend the constitution to overturn Citizens United. It has to go. It may take longer or shorter, but it has to begin.

Reform the system: Have public financing of campaigns. It has to go there. We did that when President Bush Sr. was president, he vetoed the bill. President Clinton got elected, we lost two years later so there wasn’t the time to get it done with the rest of the agenda — he had his economy agenda, the crime bill, the agenda of President Clinton which created 23 million jobs. 23 million jobs were created because of what we did then, but we raised taxes, among other reasons, and we lost the election. But we did pass it, and now it’s been a long time since we had any length of time with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. Reform the system.

Elect — that’s the dare — reformers, and I don’t care whether they are Democrats or Republicans, talking about crossing the aisle. Who ever who will reform the system, take back our democracy from the plutocracy that it could become under the Republicans.

[Image via Leader Pelosi on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed.]

Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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