First female speaker promises ‘progress’ 

Having made history as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi took office Thursday promising to "make progress for our new America."

The congresswoman from San Francisco and the rest of the 110th Congress were sworn in on the floor of the House. The first Californian to serve as speaker, she is now second in line to become president.

In a prepared speech that invoked former President Gerald R. Ford and St. Francis of Assisi, Pelosi, 66, once again called for "a new direction" in the war in Iraq and for sweeping ethics reform.

Her speech stuck to the centrist, economic populism that her party advertised ahead of November’s election. She called for an end to deficit spending, affordable education and health care and independence from foreign oil.

She dedicated only a few remarks to her own trailblazing as the first female speaker of the House.

"It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years," Pelosi said. "But women weren’t just waiting; women were working."

Before the election, Republicans warned that Pelosi’s "San Francisco values" were too far left for most Americans.

But those who have known her say the Baltimore native is a shrewd political operative skilled at counting votes and twisting arms out of the public’s eye. She values hard work and, above all, loyalty.

"I think she’s been very good at sort of signaling to the Democratic Caucus that she wants everybody to roll up their sleeves and get to work," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said. "What she’s done is made room for newer members to participate in the process based on their willingness to work hard."

Van Hollen helped recruit and raise money for Democratic candidates during the last election. Pelosi has put him on the key House Ways and Means Committee and appointed him chairman of the Democrats’ next election efforts.

University of California, Berkeley, political scientist Bruce Cain has studied Pelosi for most of her political career. He said she learned her political lessons well from her father — a former Maryland congressman and mayor of Baltimore — and from such bare-knuckled political fighters as Phil Burton, whose seat she took in 1987.

"If you understand that those were her mentors, then you understand that she knows a lot about savvy, back-room politics," Cain said. "She has confounded the expectations of people who thought she’d be the stereotype liberal."

What’s not clear is how she will function outside of the backrooms, Cain said.

"Where I worry is her ability to become national spokeswoman, which is something the speakership has become," Cain said. "She’s not as natural on TV; she’s not as quick with a quip or the repartee."

About The Author

Bill Myers

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Mencken said that the job of a good news man was to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Sounds great to me.

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