House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, like a lot of Democrats, still isn’t over election night and Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump. “Just when I think I’m getting better I see another announcement of somebody he’s appointed to the Cabinet and I think, ‘Oh, this is cataclysmic.’ But as I say, we don’t agonize, we organize.”
As Democrats debate their dimmer future—Did they lose because they overemphasized issues of racism and sexism? Was it FBI Director James Comey’s shocking late disclosure that he found more Clinton emails? And going forward, should party leaders in Congress engage with the Trump administration, or stick together to fight it? I had a phone interview with Pelosi to talk about all of this, and more.
Unfortunately, she has been here before, or close, anyway: Pelosi was elected minority leader after George W. Bush won reelection, and she was credited with helping turn around Democrats’ fortunes in 2006 and ’08 by focusing on Bush’s unpopular proposal to privatize Social Security and the disastrous Iraq War. As she runs for her seventh term as leader—she’s facing a challenge from Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan—Pelosi is promising to again focus her caucus on fighting a disastrous Republican president and on investigating the already scandal-plagued Trump administration, including evidence that he benefited from foreign hacking, as well as FBI interference, before the election.
And while she says Democrats failed to deliver a sharp economic message during the election campaign—and then corrects herself to say “some of the [media] coverage took us away from the economic message,” her sharpest criticism is for Comey. Democratic turnout was depressed, and late-deciding voters went overwhelmingly for Trump, she notes. “I put that at the doorstep of Comey. How a man who could say, ‘I cannot sign the consensus intelligence document that says the Russians hacked the Democrats, because it’s too close to the election,’ then in turn, do a letter saying that they found more e-mail, that might be insignificant, 12 days before the election—which [former New York mayor and Trump supporter] Giuliani perhaps had a lead on? The heat from Republicans in Congress, and in the FBI, was too much for him.” She promises her caucus will investigate that issue, and more.
Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You were minority leader in 2005 and 2006, under George W. Bush. Those were tough days for Democrats. What lessons do you take from that?
Here’s the thing: The press paid more attention to Harry Reid and to me, as minority leaders under a Republican president, because we were the voice of the opposition, than they ever did, as Speaker of the House and Majority Leader, under a Democratic president. The media’s attitude is, ‘We have a president, what does he think?’ So Republicans are going to find out that unless they’re attacking their president, they are the lounge act of Washington politics. What did succeed was the formula we had to stick together with a unified message, pointing out what they were doing that was wrong, going forward with an agenda for the future.