By Mike Lillis - 01/27/15 06:00 AM EST
Rep. Nancy Pelosi says Democrats can recapture control of the House in 2016 by riding Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonRace still matters: Why race should be part of first debate Poll: Clinton leads Trump in Virginia Debate preview: The blunders Clinton and Trump must correct MORE’s coattails.
“Yes, we can win the House,” the California Democrat said during a sit-down interview in her Capitol office.
“There’s opportunity, all kinds of statistics now about if the Democrats have a presidential candidate who … wins by 52 percent — that’s over 20 [House] seats,” Pelosi added. “And so 53 [percent] is a victory [for House Democrats].”
The minority leader acknowledged the headwinds facing House Democrats, who would need to pick up a whopping 30 seats to win the chamber, and she emphasized that the party’s presidential nominee is a long way from being decided.
Bold predictions are nothing new for Pelosi, who, among many other duties, has a responsibility to appear unwavering about the party’s election odds in order not to dissuade donors.
In 2010, Pelosi predicted the Democrats would keep the House, only to see the Republicans pick up 63 seats and seize the chamber. She also made rosy forecasts in 2012 and 2014 that proved inaccurate — a dynamic that hasn’t been overlooked by GOP operatives, who are scoffing at Pelosi’s latest prophesies.
“Needless to say, we get the distinct feeling that Nancy Pelosi literally has no idea what it actually takes to win back the House and is living in Fantasyland,” Ian Prior, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Monday in an email.
Pelosi pointed out that Democratic turnout tends to spike in presidential years and has repeatedly said the GOP’s refusal to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill will doom its chances of winning the White House next year and beyond.
The 2016 posturing arrives just a few days before the Democrats will huddle in Philadelphia for their annual issues retreat, where the party’s messaging strategy — and its failure to excite voters in recent cycles — will surely be discussed in depth.
Pelosi is in the middle of that storm.
The San Francisco liberal has led House Democrats since 2003, the longest run since Sam Rayburn’s tenure more than 50 years ago. After Republicans picked up 13 seats in the 2014 midterm election cycle, there was open grumbling within the caucus that it might be time for some new faces atop the leadership ranks.
“This party has to look internally as to where the hell it’s going,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said in the aftermath of the elections.
Since then, however, Pelosi has attracted praise from her colleagues for taking on both Republicans and President Obama in her staunch opposition to December’s government spending package. She’s been hailed for launching several new Democratic panels designed to get the party’s message to voters. And she’s been buoyed by the struggles of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republicans, whose start to the 114th Congress has been plagued by highly public infighting on issues like deportations, abortion and border security — issues that have largely united the Democrats.
“Bless their hearts, they act upon their beliefs,” Pelosi tells reporters, almost weekly.
The Hill’s interview touched on a wide range of topics. Other highlights include:
Pelosi said she is “very confident” the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of state laws allowing same-sex couples to wed. The court may lean to the right, she acknowledged, but its 2013 decision striking down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act foreshadows a similar ruling this summer on state-passed gay marriage laws.
“Why would they take this up? In order to reverse the decisions in the states and stop … that progress toward equality?” she asked. “I don’t see that happening.”
Pelosi downplayed long-standing Democratic divisions over whether to grant the administration “fast-track” authority to approve trade pacts, as Obama has requested. She emphasized that liberals’ concerns about food safety, currency manipulation and worker protections must be addressed, but said those hurdles are not insurmountable.
“I’m trying to say to the members, ‘Let’s turn a page on trade; let’s try to find a path to yes,’ ” she said.
Pelosi said she was recently asked if 50 Democrats would support Obama on trade and responded it could be as high as 150 — if handled the right and “transparent” way.
The debt limit
In the wake of large Republican gains in the Senate and House, Pelosi is once again pushing for a “clean” hike to the debt ceiling later this year. In 2014, only 28 House Republicans voted for such a measure.
Pelosi hammered Republicans for including “juvenile” language undoing Obama’s executive actions halting deportations as part of legislation funding the Homeland Security Department. But she also suggested GOP leaders, having made a statement to their base, would cave before the department is threatened with a shutdown.
“The Speaker probably figured, ‘Let them do their stuff; the Senate’s going to reject it; and then we’ll come to some place that the president will sign,’ ” Pelosi said.
The 74-year-old is notoriously evasive about her future. But she did open up a bit to suggest that the number of retiring liberal Californians — including former Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman, who retired this year, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, who won’t run for reelection in 2016 — have made it more important that she stay.
“When George was leaving and Henry was leaving, people were saying, ‘Oh, now you’re going to leave.’ But actually, their supporters and our supporters for the agendas that we care about were saying, ‘Now you can’t leave,’ ” Pelosi said, laughing at the thought. “And now with Barbara Boxer, and our community is like, ‘Oh my gosh, Barbara Boxer.’ ”
The congresswoman, who is serving her 15th term, says she comes to work with as much energy as ever. As Speaker, she said she slept about four hours a night. Now, it’s more like five-and-a-half hours, but no more than that.
“I don’t know how my family or staff would cope if I ever got eight hours,” Pelosi said with a laugh.
Pelosi stopped short of committing to another term if Clinton were to win the White House in 2016, saying she takes life “one day at a time.” But the first female Speaker didn’t disguise her marvel at the thought of serving in Congress alongside the nation’s first female president.
“It would be a wonderful thing,” she said.