By Mike Lillis - 10/28/13 06:00 AM EDT
If Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were to become Speaker again, she would work to pass a sweeping bill that would significantly expand federal childcare benefits.
In a sit-down interview in her office in the Capitol, the House minority leader stopped short of predicting that Democrats would regain the lower chamber in the 2014 midterm elections, but she had no hesitation in saying what she would use a majority for.
Atop her priority list as Speaker, she said, would be “comprehensive affordable, quality childcare” for working mothers, which she sees as a natural extension of ObamaCare.
“That would have the biggest impact on women, families and … job creation,” Pelosi said. “That was on President Nixon’s desk … in the ’70s, and he vetoed it for cultural or whatever reasons. And now we have to do that again.”
Pelosi, the nation’s first female Speaker, has long fought for progressive legislation on women’s issues, whether at home, in the workforce or in politics.
Of a federal childcare law, she said: “This is the missing link in so many things that we’ve talked about. It is not exhaustive of all the things we want to do or have done with regard to women, but I do think it would unleash the power of women.”
The 73-year-old Pelosi is tight-lipped about her own plans — but, intriguingly, hinted that she might not be around to see her childcare initiative come to fruition.
“I see my role as not having to be there to do it all [or] to see it through,” she said, “but to prepare the way so that whoever’s there can pick up the ball.”
Sources close to Pelosi do not expect her to leave Congress soon, however.
And although the odds are stacked against Democrats taking back the House, the shutdown has boosted Democratic hopes.
“I’ve changed my prediction … from, ‘We’re working to win the House’ to ‘We can win the House,’ ” Pelosi said.
There is also a sense that a popular presidential candidate — Hillary Clinton, for example — could produce a Democratic wave big enough to overcome the challenge of flipping districts drawn to protect incumbents, and propel the party back into the House majority in 2017. Under the Democrats’ dream scenario, Clinton would be sworn in with her party controlling both chambers of Congress.
Pelosi, for one, can barely disguise her delight at the thought of a Hillary Clinton White House. It would align the first female president with the Democrats’ women’s empowerment agenda.
Amid all the speculation, one thing is certain: Pelosi’s control over her caucus is iron-tight, despite prognostications she would lose clout after Republicans won 63 seats and put her in the minority in 2011.
Her sway was on full display in the recent shutdown fight, when she phoned in to one caucus meeting during her 50th wedding anniversary celebration to urge her troops to stick together, despite opposition to the sequester-level spending caps included in the Senate bill to reopen the government.
“It was amazing,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a sharp sequester critic, told The Hill. “It wasn’t so much that she wanted us to be at a particular [spending] level, [but] she wanted us to be together so we could then present a clear position to our Republican colleagues.”
Pelosi looks back on the episode from a different angle.
“A month before, members were saying, ‘This is horrible.’ I said, ‘You can say whatever you want about it, but don’t say you’re not going to vote for it,’ ” she recalled with a laugh.
“And that,” she said, “really saved the day.”