Good afternoon Austin:
Life is filled with mysteries.
For example, how did I end up talking to Nancy Pelosi for an hour and 25 minutes yesterday.
Here she is, the House Democratic leader, former speaker, the most powerful woman in American politics, busy trying to recapture the House for Democrats and reclaim the gavel as Speaker of the House – third in line for the presidency – and she came to me, or, more exactly, a third-floor conference room of the Austin American-Statesman, to meet with the paper’s editorial board, Ken Herman and myself.
And this was no mere drop by.
She had done public events in Houston over the weekend, and had another, later in the day Monday, in San Antonio. In Austin, it was just private meetings, and this interview.
Her devotion, even delight, in talking at length to folks at a newspaper was sweet, if a bit quaint.
I wondered whether she knew the Statesman was on the block. Maybe she knew something. Something terrible about the fate that awaits us. Maybe some journalistic Make a Wish Foundation had dispatched her here to buck us up.
Maybe every time her aide, Jorge Augilar, quietly signaled that they had to wrap it up, she looked into our sad, needy eyes and said, “No, I think I’ll stay and talk with these people for another 40 minutes. They need it”
About 35 minutes in, I asked a question, and for the next 22 minutes – really – Pelosi answered my question.
I set up the question by recounting how she had become a bit of an issue in the Democratic primary for the seat being relinquished by Republican Lamar Smith, a district that national Democrats have targeted, even if it remains a long shot.
From my story on the race:
The race for the party’s nomination in the 21st Congressional District has emerged as a microcosm of the sharp division among Democrats across the nation in how to respond to Trump — do they nominate a candidate like Joseph Kopser, a former Army Ranger turned tech entrepreneur who the smart party money says can appeal to folks in the middle who rarely if ever vote Democratic but are offended by Trump, or go with a candidate who taps the outraged passions on the left, like Derrick Crowe, Elliott McFadden or Mary Wilson?
Crowe, 37, a former congressional staffer, game store owner and advocate with liberal policy shops in Washington, D.C., and Austin, grew up in Sunray in the Panhandle. His first job on Capitol Hill was working for his congressman, Charlie Stenholm, among the last of the conservative Southern Democrats in Congress, who was ultimately gerrymandered out of his seat.
After Trump’s election, Crowe said he told his wife, Laurie, whom he met at Texas Tech University and who now teaches government at Lehman High School in Kyle, “if we ever were going to flip this district the time was now.”
Crowe, who has been endorsed by Our Revolution, the political organization launched by Bernie Sanders, and who backs free public college and university tuition and a national jobs guarantee, recalled a gathering of potential Democratic candidates last March at a restaurant in San Marcos.
“That was the first time I met Joseph Kopser and the first thing he said to me is, `If we get tagged as Nancy Pelosi liberals in this district, we’re dead,’” Crowe said.
“That was a huge red flag to me that is someone who didn’t share my progressive commitments,” said Crowe, who worked for California’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Pelosi on Capitol Hill.
“This is an incorrect way to approach a race like this,” Crowe said. And, try as Kopser might, Crowe said, “There’s nobody in Texas running at this time as a Democrat who is not going to get tagged as a Nancy Pelosi liberal.”
PELOSI: The districts we have to win – and I say this to everybody no matter what district they represent. – your job title and your job description are one and the same – representative. You represent the district. Now, if they trust your knowledge, your vision, your judgment, your plan and you connect with their aspirations, they’ll give you some leeway on some issues that may be of national consequence that don’t resonate back home. But, by and large, you’re their representative.
Let me just make a few points.
First of all, I don’t think the opposing party should choose the leaders of the other party. That’s what they’re trying to do, said she immodestly, you have an effective leader who has landmark legislation, has a national network of supporters to help in this cause, to elect Democrats, to further advance the causes of our party, and one of those causes is bipartisanship, by the way. It’s bipartisanship, transparency and unity, what unifies our party. So we don’t do to them what they do to us.
I am liberal.
But I represent my district and you represent yours. I couldn’t win in your district and you couldn’t win in mine.
But we do have a commonality of interests, and what unifies us as Democrats … is economic well-being of America’s working families. So you can’t let them smell blood, because if it’s not Nancy it’s whoever the leader is. But if the target happens to be effective, and that’s what I am, said she immodestly, but I really am because if I weren’t they wouldn’t even be paying attention to me. They went after me on the Affordable Care Act … and then, in their eloquence, what they can talk about is LGBTQ, they are so bankrupt of ideas.
Q: How do you like your chances of being speaker?
PELOSI: It’s not about me being speaker, it’s about the Democrats getting the gavel.
Q: OK. That question.
PELOSI: You want to talk politics? You ready for politics?
This is about people showing what’s in their hearts to their constituents, the authenticity of their representation, the sincerity of why they are running for office. This isn’t about a job promotion. This is about our country, and it’s a patriotic endeavor.
So you want to talk politics?
I wish the election were today because we would win today.
Go back in history, and not to our Founders, and I am not going to take eight hours on it, but here’s the deal. when Number 45 became president of the United States…
I pause here and let Ken Herman pick it up at precisely this moment from the column he wrote after the interview.
“When number 45 became president of the United States …,” she said just before I interrupted her.
“You really don’t like to say Trump. I’m getting a pattern here,” I said. (I’m pretty good about being quick to detect patterns. For example, I’m starting to think our current president is a tad different.)
Pelosi assured me she had no trouble with saying Trump. No, she said, she has no trouble with that. “It’s to say President and Trump in the same” breath that’s the problem, she said.
The ex-speaker speaks for much of a concerned nation.
Sensing an outcry for help, I staged a one-columnist intervention to help Pelosi say the words she has trouble saying: “Come on, try it. It’ll be OK.”
And she did and it was, though she quickly fell back into the previous pattern. Some habits are difficult to break. Some you don’t want to break.
“When President Trump became president… ,” she said in prefacing her next line of thought. “As I said, I’m a respectful person. More respectful of this office than he is. And, by the way, you know who tells us every day that he should not be president? You know who tells us every single day, who knows better than anyone that Trump should not be president?”
Pelosi then answered her own question: “Forty-five,” she said, referring to the number our 45th president has monogrammed on the cuffs of some of his shirts. “Every day. Right? More than once a day sometimes. Tweet city.”
OK, picking up with the interview where Ken leaves off.
PELOSI: We don’t agonize, we organize, that’s our motto. We don’t waste time. We don’t waste energy we don’t waste resources. This is a cold-blooded, strategic, focused campaign to win the Congress for the American people.
Here’s the deal. History. (Pelosi rapping her finger on the table for emphasis. Tap, tap, tap, tap.)
When President Trump won last year. (Nervous laugh.)
AAAHHH! (Sound of distress.)
Was I quivering in my face?
I seriously say that because I have to rid myself of my negative attitude. I realized that during his speech on the State of the Union, because it was horrible. It was so horrible in how he talked about immigrants and how he talked about people on opioids and the rest. I thought, my attitude on him is a luxury I can no longer afford.
You have to give me credit. My members did not leave the room. Standing up for the Dreamers for eight hours was like so easy compared to sitting sill for one hour listening to his speech.
But I had to keep them in the room. He was making it very difficult. So I said to people before, “If you’re going to leave, don’t come.”
The Black Caucus wanted to sit together. They had their kente cloths on.
The women wanted to wear black.
Everybody had their thing so that they were making their statement.
And I thought, it’s even hard for me to stay in my seat, I hope nobody gets up to leave, and they didn’t. That was my success. So they say, “Oh, you didn’t look happy.” I was happy nobody left. That was my goal.
When he won, back to your question, people said, to me, “Are you going to win the House? You’re the only game in town. Nobody thinks we can win back the Senate.” I don’t agree with that, by the way.
I said I can only tell you in a year. We can prepare during this year, but I can’t tell you if we’re going to win for one year. Because, one year before the election is when people decide to run. They are thinking about it. Some people have already announced. But by one year before the election you’ve got to get started, and if you’re president is under 50 percent, the door is closing for you.
Clinton won, went down, we lost.
The door was open for their victory.
President Bush, we took his numbers down.
We took his numbers down. We win.
George W. Bush,
We just had a really important lunch. First, I want to congratulate Congresswoman Pelosi for becoming the Speaker of the House, and the first woman Speaker of the House. This is historic for our country. And as a father of young women, it is, I think, important. I really do.
PELOSI: Obama, his numbers go down, they win.
It’s not dispositive of the issue, but it is an open door.
So, if you are thinking about running and you’re a Republican and your president is under 50 or 50, you think, “I’ll run next time.”
And if you’re an incumbent and you’re a chairman, and your votes have been terrible this last year you go home and masquerade as some kind of a moderate but you’ve been up here enabling nothing to come up on guns, nothing to come up on immigration, all these terrible things, well you’re thinking, “I’ve had a nice career, I’m respected in my community, nobody knows how I’ve voted, but they’re going to tell them in this election and I’m going to have to spend a lot of money to win, and I’m probably going to be in the minority, I think I’ll teach in the university.”
So they get the retirements. We get the A-plus recruits. And so 36 of them, I think, maybe it’s changed since this morning, around 36 of them have said they are not running, 7 or 8 of them are committee chairman who are not running. So they see the handwriting on the wall.
From Paul Kane at the Washington Post:
Five-term Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.) announced Monday that he plans to retire at the end of the year rather than stand for reelection, leaving behind a deeply conservative district in central Florida.
Rooney, 47, was considered a rising star among Florida Republicans, but he never hid his frustration with the gridlock that gripped Congress for most of his decade in office.
He becomes the 28th House Republican to quit politics — at least for now — this election season. That group includes several committee chairmen and a handful who resigned in pursuit of private-sector jobs or amid scandal. Fourteen more House Republicans are leaving their seats to run for another office. Eighteen House Democrats have announced that they are not seeking reelection; half are running for higher office.
“After what will be 10 years in the United States Congress representing the good people of Florida’s Heartland, it’s time to ‘hang em up’ as my old football coach used to say,” Rooney, a grandson of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, said in a statement.
PELOSI: On the other side, it’s not even a recruitment because so many of these people self-recruited – veterans, academics elected officials, private sector people, so many people coming forward. Forty-five happens to be one of our best recruiters. I have never in my whole political life seen anything like the energy at the grassroots level. You saw that at the march and that was organic, it wasn’t political, they did it and now they’re showing how they want to participate And this past year, all of those people helped us fend off the challenge to the Affordable Care Act, we couldn’t defeat the tax bill, but we won the argument so far.
So we have something like a hundred races, a hundred races, far too many, that are better than any of those special elections, because those special elections were in Republican districts, where hates those Cabinet officers, or Murphy had to resign, right away, your computers turned off, get out of the building kind of resign.
From Rebecca Savransky at The Hill.
House Democrats are planning to take aim at more than 100 congressional districts that are held by Republicans in this year’s midterm elections.
The plans from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) would expand the number of battleground districts to the largest amount in at least a decade.
The districts Democrats plan to target will be in states including South Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas.
“They should do some re-evaluating,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the chairman of the DCCC, said of Republicans’ confidence about the midterms, according to NBC News.
PELOSI: So, out of that hundred, we have to reduce that down about two-thirds of that to get down to the 24 we need, perhaps 30, 35, you know I’d like to have more than the 24. Right now, today we could do that. But 100 is too much. In other words, we’d rather double down and win than spread too thinly and lose by a little.
The value of that is, say you’re a slacker, you’re not the candidate we need you to be, you say, “Sunday’s I always play golf.”
“Oh really, not on our time.”
And then we say, we have other places we can go.
So many women candidates
So candidates know, this is almost like a competition. They have to do their share. This isn’t an entitlement program. We need people to run, oh you’re good, you look good for the district, here’s the money, No, they have to work. How do you connect with your constituents? That’s the most important thing. First of all, it’s would you win, but even before that, chronologically, show how you are going to represent them. How are you going know them, how are they going to know you.
We have a great (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) chairman, Ben Ray Luján, who is from New Mexico, very talented, very respected by the members.
(Pelosi is rapping on the table top again.)
Forgive me for using this word, you have to be very cold-blooded about how you make these decisions about the races because everybody’s so great, but one in five children lives in poverty in America and we have to have our best fighters go out there to win.
So today we would win. Texas is really important to us. We have always invested in Texas because Texas will make the difference as to what the future of our country is. Imagine Texas just turning purple even. Wow. We’re one of the few national committees that actually does invest in Texas because we have prospects, and we believe in turning Texas blue, purple, whatever the color.
(Coming soon to a Greg Abbott fundraising appeal: Nancy Pelosi, in Austin, said “Texas is really important to us. We have always invested in Texas because Texas will make the difference as to what the future of our country is. Imagine Texas just turning purple even.” Yes, imagine Texas turning blue. Invest in keeping Texas red. Give to Greg Abbott. Because no amount of money is too much.)
We pause here for another contribution from Ken Herman, who the very evening of our interview with Pelosi was listening in on an Abbott fundraising teleconference, in which Pelosi’s name came up a few times.
Like here, from Nicole, the call center operator.
We need a big big turnout in the March 6 primary to set the record straight about this so-called enthusiasm gap. We don’t want to give the mainstream media the fuel they want for their fire. You know, Nancy Pelosi was in Harris County last week and she pledged to spend whatever it takes to win back seats in 2018. She even said, and quote, she had a good feeling about this year. Well, I don’t want Nancy Pelosi to have a good feeling about this year. I hope you don’t either.
And this, from Gov. Abbott himself
At the very beginning you used the word concerned, that you were concerned about it. I got to tell you your concern is valid and everybody on this phone needs to understand that George Soros is playing a role in elections this cycle. Very importantly, George Soros gave a whole lot of money in the last cycle and he gave that money here in the state of Texas. so George Soros did directly influence the outcome of the elections in the state of Texas last go-round. He’s trying to do the same thing this time. You’ve heard on this phone call, you probably know separately, people like Nancy Pelosi are involved. The way that the laws are set up for this election cycle, they’re going to be able to donate money here and so what weve got to do is make sure that we’re going to be able to meet and overwhelm their attempt to hijack the state of Texas, which is exactly why Bobby I’m talking to you and close to a hundred thousand people right this minute. And that’s because all of us need to work together to ensure that we are not going to let George Soros and Nancy Pelosi hijack this state. We’re going to keep Texas Texas. And we’re going to do that block by block, house by house with the largest grassroots effort in the history of the state of Texas, and that’s the one that we are putting together tonight.”
Back to the interview, that morning, with Pelosi:
PELOSI: We have five races.
(The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted five seats in Texas, now held by Republicans, that it would like to flip. In addition to Smith’s seat in the 21st, they are John Culberson’s seat in the 7th CD, Will Hurd’s seat in the 23rd, Pete Sessions’ seat in the 32nd, and, most recently, John Carter’s seat in the 31st.)
I’ll talk to you after the primary or the runoff. We think we have a couple of prospects in the Houston area, one in Dallas, in the Valley. I have a little broader list than the cold-blooded list of the committee, so I’m still hopeful of a little more.
Pelosi is handed a binder by Aguilar, the aide, who executive director of Nancy Pelosi for Congress, with a list of the races and the Democratic candidates competing in each.
So they’re all multi-candidates. So we’ll see. this is about the choice of the people in those districts about who they want.
Could she identify the preferred candidates?
PELOSI: I wouldn’t think of doing that.
There are candidates who match the districts.
The reason I became speaker, I think, apart from my mastery of the legislative skills and my broad base of support around the country, was I got tired of losing.
I had no intention of going leadership. I was forged on the Intelligence Committee and Appropriations and I knew my stuff and I loved it. It was like eating really dark chocolate ice cream every day, but we were losing. and we lost in ’94 and ’96 and ’98, and so in 2000 I said to them, they’re very nice people, I raise a lot of money in California, I’m going to spend it in California, we’ll export some money but I want to call the shots in California.
So I was chairman. I knew the grassroots in this state down to the last blade of grass. I know who can win where. I know how different the districts are from each other, and within the district, how different it is from one part of the district to each other.
So we knew what candidates would work. So on that day of the election in 2000 we had 26 Democrats and 26 Republicans. The next day, we had 31 Democrats and 21 Republicans. Giving us that ten to help win the House a few years later. You know what it is now? 39 to 14, and we still want to win some more this election.
How can I say this in a nice way? We have to be cold-blooded in what we do. In other words, if the wrong person wins – well nobody’s wrong – but if the person who can’t win, wins, it’s not a priority race for us anymore, because we’ve got 100 races.
For the Democratic aspirants in the Texas 7, 21, 23, 24, 31 and 32, the March 6 primary is the time to show and prove.
PELOSI: Show us your strength or your weakness in a race.
Now people have their own enthusiasm, their own enthusiasm that they bring to it and they might be able to created something.
I hope for a wave, but I believe you make your wave. You make your wave.
Since it’s the Olympics, this is what I tell them. In one second, you’re gold, silver, bronze or nothing. These races are tough. They are tight, you win by 300 votes, 1,000 votes, this isn’t like, I’m riding a wave here and it’s just a question of hail fellow well met, combed hair. You have to go door to door to door to door, over and over again so people see what’s in your heart your sincerity, Authenticity is bigger than any amount of intellectual prowess, because people think you can buy that anyway. You can hire that. But conviction, courage, that’s who you are.
It’s always that way but even mores this year because of our friend in the White House, the great organizer
And that was the answer to my question, but Pelosi, even after being advised again by Aguilar – this time in writing – that she really needed to get to her event in San Antonio, happily answered another couple of questions for another half hour.
As she parted, we shook hands, we thanked each other for the time, and she told me to call if I ever wanted to talk politics.
That seemed about as likely as her coming to Austin to talk to me for an hour-and-twenty five minutes on a Monday morning
But my puzzlement turned to horror when I saw the photo that Ralph had snapped of us as we parted company.
I am 63. Nancy Pelosi is 77. I always thought that I looked young for my age, but here I was, looking older than I had ever looked, than I had ever imagined looking, bidding goodbye to niece Nancy as she headed back to college after winter break.
Somehow, in our hour-and-25-minutes of talk, she had sucked years of life force from me – aging me as she grew younger. I had experienced my own, personal Zombie apocalypse.
And then I realized that only two weeks ago, Pelosi, ostensibly in support of the Dreamers, had “set the record for the longest-continuous House floor speech on record …speaking for 8 hours and 7 minutes – in four-inch heels.”
Oh, the humanity.
Who knows how many years she gained that day – it’s lucky she didn’t end up an infant a la Benjamin Button – even as had sapped the essence, bit by bit, from the millions of unsuspecting Americans who watched her.
Put that in your next fundraising letter Gov. Abbott.