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America's first Madam Speaker

Nancy Pelosi plans to drive a '100-hour' agenda through the House.

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Vilified in Republican campaigns across the nation as a "San Francisco liberal," Nancy Pelosi – the speaker presumptive of the 110th Congress – actually lives politics closer to her roots in the precincts and wards of Baltimore's Democratic Party machine.

That's not to say she's a backslapping, cigar-champing pol. The totems in Representative Pelosi's office are white Casablanca lilies and San Francisco's Ghirardelli chocolates. Like many Democrats of her generation, she keeps a photograph of herself – then, a credible stand-in for Audrey Hepburn – with President Kennedy on a table in her office.

But what helped Pelosi become the first female speaker – and second in line to the presidency – is old-school pragmatism: a practical sense of how to build power and no qualms about using it.

"The campaign is over. Democrats are ready to lead," she told cheering supporters in Washington on Tuesday.

A prodigious fundraiser with a family fortune, Pelosi openly split with the House's former Democratic leader, Richard Gephardt of Missouri, over the 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq, which she opposed. When Mr. Gephardt stepped down after Democratic setbacks in that year's midterm election, Pelosi quickly consolidated support to replace him.

She insists that she would not hesitate to defend the nation, if needed. A woman in power is like "a lioness in the jungle," she said at a Monitor breakfast in March. "You know you're dead if you go near the cubs.... If you pose a real threat to the people of our country, you can count on hearing from us very soon," she added.

As minority leader in the House, Pelosi united a diverse and fractious Democratic caucus on more key votes than any leader in the past half century, according to a survey by Congressional Quarterly. She did it by setting clear lines and holding party members to them on the argument that a united caucus had a better shot at winning back the House than did a divided one.

But behind the unity is fear – mostly that she will strip projects or plum assignments from Democrats seen as working too conspicuously with Republican lawmakers.


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