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‘Now Come the Really Tough Questions’

Posted on by Karina

Yesterday, Speaker Pelosi held her weekly press conference and to celebrate the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, invited members of the Capitol Hill press corps and staff to bring their children to the press conference. She answered many questions from the children ranging from ‘does it bother you that so many people don’t like politics’ to ‘what are some of the biggest challenges you find being a woman in Congress.’ When asked if she knew she wanted to Speaker of the House when she was a kid, she explained:

When I was your age, I wanted to be a teenager. When I was a teenager, I wanted to dance — I don’t mean dance professionally, I mean just dance. Just dance. Dance with my friends, dance — I wanted to be a teenager. And when I went away to college, I just wanted to be in college. Every step of the way, I loved what I was doing. But I certainly had no interest in being Speaker of the House, and I had no interest in running for office.

So what that says is, though, you never know what opportunities might be there for you. You might think, maybe I want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a veterinarian, or I want to be a scientist, or I want to be the most wonderful of all, a schoolteacher and teach children. And then somewhere along the way, another opportunity will come your way, and you have to be ready for that. You have to be ready for that.

Watch the question and answer session:

Full transcript:

Okay. We are going to go to our special guests here now. We are going to get rid of this thing. [Podium.] Thank you all very much. Now come the really tough questions.

This is a little bit like — I don’t think I should have the candy in — let me just put it here, and maybe pass it around, okay? I’m not sure I approve of this whole candy thing, being a grandmother myself.

But thank you all for coming. I’m so happy to see you again. Some of you have gotten bigger since we first started this. Well, in fact, all of you have. Some of you are first time visitors.

I believe that most of you are children of journalists who are here. Some are not. But I want you to know how much we respect what your parents do. Freedom of the press is one of the most important principles of a democracy, because they can write and tell what they see going on in the community, in government, in the economy, and in so many ways. So sometimes when your mom and dad are not home in time for dinner or can’t be there for one occasion or another, know how important the work is that they are doing and how much we in Congress respect what they do.

We have a lot of — we passed a health reform bill recently that was very important for children. Do you know any children who have been sick? I hope you don’t. Do you know some children who have been sick? And some kids, just their parents can’t afford to take them to the doctor. And some of them are very, very sick. And we want to make sure that all of them have that opportunity.

Do you have a question?

Q: Yes. Can we stop pollution?

Speaker Pelosi. Can we stop pollution? Very good.

I think that this is a very important question that Ellen is asking about, can we stop pollution, because the children are way ahead of adults, I think, on this subject.

When we are all gone, this planet will belong to you, as it does now, but you will be in charge. And we believe it is important that for you, for your health now, for the future of the planet, that we must reduce pollution. And I think we can.

One way we can is by not using so much oil and coal in a way that adds to pollution. Another way is for us to change some of our habits in terms of recycling and other things that help reduce pollution in the air.

So each of us has a responsibility, whether it is as a child or a member of a family, a person in the classroom, those of us who make laws all have a responsibility to you to reduce pollution.

Some kids get very sick from pollution. Some kids get asthma, and, you know, asthma is not curable. It isn’t curable yet. But we want to relieve that threat to their good health as we try to find a cure for asthma as well.

Any other questions? Okay. Who is that back there? Hi.

Q: Does it bother you that so many people don’t like politics?

Speaker Pelosi. Does it bother me that so many people don’t like politics?

We had a lot of laughter right up front here, I want you to know. I think more people like politics than we know, but a lot of the people who don’t like politics are more vocal about it.

The day we passed the health care bill, my grandchildren were here. One is 3, and one is 2. And when we were walking through the halls and around, all these people were shouting at us, shouting and shouting. But my grandchildren call me Mimi, and then my daughter’s name is Nancy. And these people were shouting “Nancy” this and “Nancy” that. And my grandson, who is 3, said, “Why are those people all mad at Aunt Nancy?” They did seem to be angry.

But there are many people who are interested in what happens in politics and may not like one thing or another, but a lot of people want to know about it. And we want young people to take an interest and, if you don’t like what is happening, to say so very clearly, but to be open to making your own suggestions.

Thank you.

Okay. Who is this? How are you? Thanks for coming. What is your question?

Q: Where do you live?

Speaker Pelosi. Where do I live?

Well, I live in San Francisco, California. I work in Washington, D.C. And when I work in Washington, D.C., I live in the District of Columbia. But my home is California.

I was actually born in Baltimore, Maryland, which is close by here. And I feel a very special relationship there.

But I hope you all come out to California. It is a very, very beautiful place. In San Francisco, we have the Golden Gate Bridge, and we have — it is a beautiful place. And I’m very proud to represent it. But that’s where my home is.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: How did you get the job of Speaker of the House?

Speaker Pelosi. How did I get the job of Speaker of the House?

It is a long story. Some think it began when I was a very little girl in Baltimore, Maryland, learning about politics from my mother and my father.

But after I came to Congress, I never thought about being Speaker of the House. But, after a while, I did think about — I’m a Democrat, see, and I wanted the Democrats to win. So I thought I had a way for Democrats to win. And when we did, they elected me the Speaker of the House.

But it wasn’t what my goal was, but it just tells you, you never know when an opportunity may come along that you better be ready for. Because while you might not be thinking of one thing, some good thing might be out there for you.

But being Speaker is a very big honor. It’s the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and then the next person in the Constitution is the Speaker of the House. And they have never had, in over 200 years of American history, a woman in any of those positions — until now, where we have a woman Speaker of the House.

I have no doubt that when you grow up and are old enough to vote, so a dozen years or so, that by then there might even be — someone might become a woman President of the United States. And that would be very great, I think, for our country.

Do we have another question? Yes, ma’am?

Q: Why are there so many problems with the government?

Speaker Pelosi. Why are there so many problems with the government?

I think I’m getting a tenor of the dinner table conversation at home. I guess this is not an appropriate time to talk about the previous Administration, then.

Right now, we have serious challenges facing our country. We have two wars that we are engaged in, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. And we should all be very, very grateful to our soldiers and our men and women, we say, “in uniform” who help to protect, keep America safe.

But we have two wars going on. We have a lot of people who have lost their jobs. We have issues that relate to the education of our children, the pollution of our air, the amount of money that we are going into debt. And we have to make some very, very difficult decisions on how we go forward. But not everybody agrees, and so what you see is that debate, which is a struggle.

It has always been so in our country. When our country was founded, our first President was George Washington. He was a great soldier and a great statesman and a great President. His picture is in the Chamber of the Congress, and one day we will go down there and see it. Maybe today, who knows?

When he became President — everybody wanted him to be President forever, but he said no. He said, “I’m only going to be…” He was President one term. Then the second term he said, “I’m not going to go for a third term.” Well, that’s when all of the debate began. Because everybody listened to him when he was President, but when he said he wasn’t going to be President anymore, then the debate began.

And since that time, our country has had a very lively debate over different issues. And that is a healthy thing for our country. That is a healthy thing for our country. We have always had struggles about states’ rights, about slavery, about going to war, about how to create jobs, how to not put debt on to children. And that’s the nature of a democracy. Sometimes it doesn’t look very neat.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: When you were a kid, did you want to be Speaker of the House?

Speaker Pelosi. When I was a kid, did I want to be Speaker of the House?

When I was your age, I wanted to be a teenager. When I was a teenager, I wanted to dance — I don’t mean dance professionally, I mean just dance. Just dance. Dance with my friends, dance — I wanted to be a teenager. And when I went away to college, I just wanted to be in college. Every step of the way, I loved what I was doing. But I certainly had no interest in being Speaker of the House, and I had no interest in running for office.

So what that says is, though, you never know what opportunities might be there for you. You might think, maybe I want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a veterinarian, or I want to be a scientist, or I want to be the most wonderful of all, a schoolteacher and teach children. And then somewhere along the way, another opportunity will come your way, and you have to be ready for that. You have to be ready for that.

And it is — no, I had absolutely — in fact, I wasn’t even that involved in politics when I was young — my family was, but I wanted to do, you know, more normal things like play with my doll or go swimming or, then when I became a teenager, be a teenager.

I was a teenager in the ’50s. It was a great time to be a teenager. Elvis came on the scene, Elvis Presley. He was so great, “the king.” So my interest was more in Elvis than who was President of the United States.

Okay? Any other questions?

Yes, ma’am? And then we are going to go to our other young visitors.

Q: I was wondering, before you were Speaker, you were the Democrat whip, right?

Speaker Pelosi. The whip and then the leader and then the Speaker, uh huh.

Q: Did you like being the whip?

Speaker Pelosi. I liked being a whip. Lots of people sent me red vines. Do you know what they are, red vines? They look like a whip. But that isn’t what I used.
I liked being a whip. I will tell you why. Because when you’re the whip — and now we have a very distinguished whip, Mr. Clyburn from South Carolina. And our leader, Steny Hoyer, he was the whip before he became the leader.

And what we all love about that job is that on every single day you’re working very closely with the Members. You’re asking them if they can vote for an immigration bill, an energy bill, the health care bill. Today we will be talking about national security bill on Iran. And so, you hear what their thinking is: “What do you think of the education bill? What do you think…” That's how we whip. We ask them what they think.

And so, on many different issues, talking to many different Members, we get their view. And that is very exciting for us, because what we try to do is then put their views together to go forward with legislation.

So the best part of it, the most fun of it is that we get to know the Members better. And some of us have been knowing each other for a long time and we still learn things about each other. And some Members are brand new, and we learn a lot from our new Members. We learn a lot from them.

Should we take one more and then go to our other guests?

Yes?

Q: What do you plan on doing for Earth Day?

Speaker Pelosi. Well, we have already started some of our Earth Day activities.
Yesterday was a big day for us. On the floor of the House, we honored someone named Senator Gaylord Nelson. Senator Gaylord Nelson was the person who, when he was in the United States Senate 40 years ago, established Earth Day to protect the environment and to protect the planet. He was really a pioneer in his thinking. And yesterday we honored him on the floor of the House.

At the same time, we had our “Green the Office” initiative. When I became Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, saving the planet and climate change, addressing the climate change crisis and dealing with the energy issues and environment issues is a big important issue to me. I call it my flagship issue. Not that health care isn’t the most important issue, and job creation, but everybody is interested in those. We hadn’t had a Speaker that was interested particularly in this issue about the future of our planet.

So when I became Speaker, we instituted something called the “Greening of the Capitol.” It was an initiative where we changed many things to reduce what we call our carbon footprint, that we use less substances that would pollute the air. We went from coal to natural gas, in terms of how we used power here. We changed the lightbulbs. We had all the Members’ offices using many more renewable resources, composting what was in their office. And so that started as “Green the Capitol.” We made decisions about transportation and what fuels would be used.

But yesterday we focused on how we specifically green the offices. And we now have lights — I wish I could take you over there — and soon they will be in this room. But we have lights I don’t know with these chandeliers how that would work, but we will try. But in these offices, we have lights that, if you leave the room, there is a sensor in the room — if people are not in a room for a certain period of time, the lights go off. Or if you’re in the room, but as the day gets brighter outside, the lights get dimmer inside so that you’re not wasting energy. And the changes that we have made greatly reduce the use of energy.

So we celebrated Earth Day by doing something about reducing pollution, reducing our dependence on what we call fossil fuels that harm the environment, and by taking personal responsibility in each of our offices to do that.

Maybe some of you, when you’re visiting the offices today, will see some of what some of the offices are doing. Composting and — and one of the big things we did was in the cafeteria, the Rayburn cafeteria. Maybe you go over there sometime. And lots to do with recycling and the kinds of food preparation that we have there.
Everyplace that we can we are trying to, again, improve the environment for our children.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: Would you ever run for President since you have so much experience?

Speaker Pelosi. No.

Dare I repeat the question? Did I understand it correctly? Would I ever run for President since I have so much experience? Was that the rest of it? Says she.
No. I love the job that I have. And I believe that one of the reasons that I do it with the success that I have is that my Members know that I am here for them, for the House of Representatives, and I’m not thinking of another career path for myself.

But I’m very proud to be the Speaker of the House. It is a great honor, especially being the first woman.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you find, being a woman in Congress?

Speaker Pelosi. What are some of the biggest challenges I find, being a woman in Congress?

As Speaker, I don’t find too many challenges. But before then, before then, when I came to Congress, there were very few women Members. What was it, like, 16 or something like that? That was 23 years ago. There were very few women here, and we had very little opportunity.

One of the goals I had was to increase the number of women here, and now we have many more. But we still don’t have 100. We still don’t have enough, 50 percent of the Congress. But it is a lot better now. We have women who are chairmen of committees. We have a woman who is the Speaker of the House. We have women in leadership. So it is a lot different now.

And I will tell you this, that being Speaker is a powerful job. When you become Speaker, you don’t have problems as a woman in Congress.

I could tell you — I wrote a book — I will make sure you have it — called, “Know Your Power.” And in it I talk about some of the challenges that we had as women coming up. And it was — it was a struggle. At first they thought it was sort of nice nice. “There are a few women here. Okay.” Then when we got to have larger numbers, it was sort of like, “What do they think they are doing?” And when I ran for leadership, they said, “Who told her she could run?” as if I had to ask them for permission. And then when our numbers grew even bigger and our power grew, I think everybody is sort of used to it by now.

But read my book, because it has some of the — I think some of the stories are almost funny because they sound so old fashioned in terms of what the attitudes were toward women.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: You said one of your main passions is environmental issues. How do you plan on improving the Clean Air Act to reduce the…

Speaker Pelosi. Well, we have a committee that is chaired by a man who was very instrumental in writing the Clean Air Act, Congressman Ed Markey — or, I should say Chairman Ed Markey. He is from Massachusetts. He was there when the Clean Air Act was written.

There was great resistance when the Clean Air Act was written. You wouldn’t think so, right? It seems so obvious. But the polluters weighed in for a very long time, and it took years to write the book — to write the bill. He has written a book on the subject, but to do the bill.

And so, what his work is now as chairman of the Select Committee on Climate and Energy is to constantly update those. So he is the person who is on the forefront of it, Congressman Ed Markey.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: How many of your staffers are females?

Speaker Pelosi. How many are female? So many that it — isn’t it a majority? I think maybe a majority of them are, certainly between here and San Francisco, yes.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: What advice would you give to people in my generation who want to get more involved in politics?

Speaker Pelosi. Well, I’m glad that we have a positive question about politics, too. And not that I took the other one as a negative.

It is a most — well, let’s say first this: Have a tremendous enthusiasm for it. It is very, very exciting.

Secondly, understand that — and I firmly believe this — that the increased participation of women in government and in politics is the most wholesome change that we have seen. We need women in politics. Women make a difference. They bring a special contribution to the debate. And there should be no important decisions, whether it is our national security, whether it is the economy or issues that relate to the education and health of our children, the safety of our neighborhoods, the condition of our environment, that women should not be at the table and, in fact, in the lead.

So I would say, the need is there. I encourage an enthusiasm for addressing the issues of the day.

And, in your own personal situation, I think what has served me well was I never had a plan to be even run for office. It wasn’t even — I had five children, and, as they were growing up, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was run for office. I wanted to be with my kids. And I volunteered in politics when they were in school, but I wasn’t taking any full time jobs.

But, as I went along, I received recognition for my volunteerism, that I was dependable, reliable, that I was effective, that I could get a job done. And then I went on the Library Commission and I had official recognition. And I loved being on the Library Commission. That was my first official job — it wasn’t a job, it was still volunteer, but an assessment.

And so, what I would say is: Know if you have a passion for it, channel it into a particular issue, which might be your passion. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other issues, too, but demonstrate your knowledge, your long-term commitment, be recognized for that. And then when the opportunity comes, your enthusiasm, your knowledge, your commitment will be recognized, and you will attract support in a very substantial way. And nothing is more eloquent to people that you want to lead is that you are strong and committed to that leadership.

I hope you will remain interested.

Yes, one more. Well, maybe we will take two.

Q: How do you balance your work between representing San Francisco and as Speaker of the House?

Speaker Pelosi. How do I balance my work between representing San Francisco and as Speaker of the House?

Well, this is a challenge every leader in Congress has because we do wear a couple of hats. My title is Representative, to represent my district; my further responsibility as Speaker of the entire House. And so I can’t just come to that role and say, “This is what would be exactly how my constituents would write this bill.” I have to be able to persuade many more people about a bill for them to vote for it.

But my constituents give me a lot of opportunity to represent them but understand that I have a different job as Speaker of the House, certainly to bring the values of my district to the Congress, but to find solutions that respond to the needs of people across the country. It is a great honor that I have, and I’m grateful to the people of San Francisco for giving me the freedom to do this job.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: Do you enjoy being a female Speaker of the House of Representatives?

Speaker Pelosi. The question is, do I enjoy being a female Speaker of the House of Representatives?

It is fabulous. It is absolutely fabulous. I love it. And I love the response that I receive across the country where women of all ages — young women, grandmothers like me — are excited about what it means that there is a woman Speaker.

But what is interesting to me is also that fathers of daughters have written to me and said, “Because you did that, now my daughter knows she, too, can be Speaker of the House or whatever she wants to be.” So I not only enjoy the job, but I love the fact that it has given some confidence to other young women — well, not other young women — young women, as well as others.

Now, some of us came out of the kitchen. So, in other words, I raised my family, my five children, came out of the kitchen to the Congress. So, while I was older than some young people going in, I was new to being in the workforce. And there are many women like me who’ve raised their families and now they know that they can do something pretty important, even though the most important job is of course raising our children. But even though they have spent those years, they can now achieve success otherwise.

I don’t think anything prepares you for dealing with people and being successful at it than raising a family. The discipline, the focus, the interpersonal skills, the diplomacy, the sense of organization, the joy. And, by the way, I regard my life in politics as an extension of my life as a mother, because I want to act on issues that improve the world, the future for not only my children but all of the children of the world.

Just one more, and then we will have to go.

Q: What kind of tough decisions do you have to make?

Speaker Pelosi. What kind of tough decisions do you have to make?

I welcome the opportunity to make the decisions. That is my job. So I don’t like to think of them that they are tough. But I do have some difficult responsibilities once the decision is made.

But I don’t make the decisions myself. I work with my leadership and we work with all of our Members to build what we call “consensus” as to where we would like to take the legislation.

The difficult part is getting it all done. And the most difficult job I have had in this past year is to get my Members to vote for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are going to be having that vote soon again. It is a very difficult vote.

But to be Speaker was great when I became Speaker three years ago. To become Speaker with President Barack Obama as President of the United States was just glorious, because he has a vision for America that is so big. He has an eloquence to communicate with the American people. He thinks in a way, in a planned way. And he is a great leader. So, while I love being Speaker of the House, I love it even more with Barack Obama as President of the United States.

Thank you all very much. We will talk privately, okay? Thank you all very much for coming. Thanks, kids.

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