Pelosi’s legacy is ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’, by Marc H. Morial
12/1/2022, 6 p.m.
“History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history. There are countless examples of how she embodies the obligation of elected officials to uphold their oath to God and country to ensure our democracy delivers and remains a beacon to the world. In everything she does, she reflects a dignity in her actions and a dignity she sees in the lives of the people of this nation.”—President Biden
When the National Urban League convened our first in-person conference in three years, in July, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi joined us for the opening rally at the Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial.
“There’s an assault on our democracy,” she said. “That’s why we have to fight for voting rights, and we will not stop until we achieve voting rights: removing obstacles of participation and the voter suppression laws, doing away with their nullification of elections, removing big special interest money from suffocating our political system, so that everyone’s voices are heard.”
As her historic fourth term as speaker of the house draws to a close, it is nearly impossible to express the full impact of her decades of leadership and the profound legacy she leaves behind
It has been my privilege to know and collaborate with Speaker Pelosi since her earliest days in Congress, when I was a Louisiana State Senator, throughout my two terms as Mayor of New Orleans and the last two decades with the National Urban League. One of my most treasured mementos is a pen she gave to me that President Obama used to sign the Affordable Care Act.
Of all the legislative and policy initiatives on which she and I have worked together, it was the passage of the ACA that demonstrated her unmatched mastery of the legislative process and the power of her determination. When her party’s loss in a Senate special election cost them a filibuster-proof majority, many — including President Obama’s own chief of staff — publicly declared the ACA dead and advocated for a watered-down, piecemeal approach. Speaker Pelosi derided the proposal as “eensy weensy bill,” telling President Obama, “I know there are some on your staff who want to take the namby-pamby approach. That’s unacceptable.”
The vote-wrangling that Speaker Pelosi employed to bring the bill to meet the pen I now treasure will be the subject of graduate seminars on public policy for generations to come.
But as large as her speakership may loom in the history books, she was no less bold or impressive as minority leader.
In 2018, she broke the record for longest House speech, spending eight hours and seven minutes reading the emotional letters of young DREAMers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who aspire to become U.S. citizens. Characteristically, she wore her four-inch heels the entire time. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy bested her record by four minutes last year, “but if he wanted to outdo her, he should’ve done it in stilettos,” Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez said.
Whether leading the majority or minority, she has long been a target of misogynistic attacks, false accusations and conspiracy theories, and threats of violence led by members of the opposing party. Tragically, this campaign of demonization culminated in a brutal attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi, by a right-wing conspiracy theorist intent on abducting her. Yet she herself has never resorted to personal attacks. She has risen above the rancor and insults leveled at her without responding in kind. She continues to exude grace and is the personification of the iron fist in a velvet glove.
When she was sworn in as the first woman speaker of the house in 2007, she noted that women had waited more than 200 years to shatter the “marble ceiling” of Congress. As she said, “Women weren’t just waiting, women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal.”
Her commitment to that promise never has wavered throughout her illustrious career. She has been steadfast in her support for civil rights and civil liberties. I’m proud to call her my friend. On behalf of the National Urban League and our nationwide network of affiliates, I thank Speaker Pelosi for her years of dedicated service and her friendship to the League.
The writer is president and CEO of the National Urban League.