GW School of Media and Public Affairs hosts the House minority leader on the heels of congressional budget agreement meeting.
About an hour after participating in closed-door negotiations on the congressional budget agreement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took the stage at the George Washington University Jack Morton Auditorium to talk—fittingly—about women in politics and leadership.
The sold-out “Conversation Series” event hosted by the School of Media and Public Affairs late Tuesday morning paired Rep. Pelosi with SMPA Director Frank Sesno following a welcome address from George Washington President Steven Knapp.
“It is an honor to be here at the George Washington University and in the presence of your very respected—throughout the world and certainly in our country—president, President Knapp,” Rep. Pelosi said.
Mr. Sesno began the conversation with a fast-paced word association game. Rep. Pelosi revealed her feelings about the budget deal—“hooray”— and Republican nominee frontrunners Ben Carson—“dangerous”—and Donald Trump—“performer.”
She also called outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) “terrific” and said that possible replacement Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was “hopeful.”
The audience met her responses with collective “oohs” and a bit of laughter, but the audience, most of whom were students, applauded when Rep. Pelosi said she would happily give up her title as the “highest ranking woman in U.S. politics” to Hillary Clinton.
Rep. Pelosi said the the government must find "a path to ending inequality" in order to win over the "deeply scarred middle class."
“Imagine that Hillary Clinton is walking into the Oval Office, just for a second,” she said. “I’m not saying it will happen, but with her experience, she is one of the best prepared people to walk into that office,” Rep. Pelosi said.
Later, Rep. Pelosi responded with a simple remark to a student’s query about whether Ms. Clinton’s lengthy political experience would be a turn-off to voters with an anti-establishment sentiment.
“There is nothing ‘establishment’ about being a woman in office,” she said with a touch of laughter.
The line captures the light but firm tone that 75-year-old Rep. Pelosi struck during the conversation. She drew on nearly 40 years of experience in politics to comment on a range of issues from the pending budget agreement and the state of American politics to climate change and ways to attract women, minorities and young people to public service.
Rep. Pelosi expressed pride in the pending budget agreement, which would require a 50/50 split on spending for domestic and defense programs because “nothing reduces the deficit more than educating the American people.” She also applauded Rep. Boehner’s choice to step down from his position as the 53rd speaker of the House following a series of clashes with conservative members of Congress.
“There is nothing ‘establishment’ about being a woman in office."
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
“He did the right thing. We had his back,” Rep. Pelosi said before urging Mr. Ryan to “not let anyone take away his gavel,” should he assume the role of speaker.
Rep. Pelosi referenced university namesake George Washington when discussing the polarized state of U.S. politics because he warned against political parties that were at war with their government.
She said that ending inequalities in health care, education, income, retirement and access to opportunity is the only remedy for the “deeply scarred” middle class.
Government should be transparent and open.
“This is an old argument,” she said. “The government should be subject to the harshest scrutiny.”
For women, Rep. Pelosi said, that scrutiny comes from all sides. She said that she “dons a suit of armor each morning and eats nails for breakfast” to prepare for working in politics. She advised aspiring politicos to find their purpose and then make their politics personal and connect emotionally.
“Ask yourself, what drives your engine?” she said. “What do you know? Do you have a plan? Can you think strategically?”
Mr. Sesno presented Rep. Pelosi with a GW vase full of dark chocolate—her favorite candy. "I did some research and found out that you are a bit of a 'chocoholic,'" he said.
She named money as a chief barrier to leadership for women, minorities and young people with political aspirations. She said that for women, the invitation to political leadership should include policies that acknowledge the value of women, including paid sick leave and equal pay.
However, she did admit that her road to political success was less about intention and more about staying aware.
“Just be ready, take inventory and get recognition for what you do,” she said. “There may be something that happens suddenly—that’s your opportunity.”
Upon seeing an auditorium of raised hands when Mr. Sesno asked if students were interested in public service, Rep. Pelosi smiled and issued a call to action.
“Have faith in our country and in yourselves,” Rep. Pelosi told the students. “You are unique, and no one else can make your unique contribution.
“I’m very inspired by all of you.”