From the 60 Minutes Archives: Nancy Pelosi

Lesley Stahl first profiled Nancy Pelosi in 2006, before she became Speaker of the House of Representatives

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Editor's Note: This week on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl sits down with Nancy Pelosi. But this isn't the first time they met. In 2006, right before the midterm elections and months before Pelosi made history as the first woman to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, she appeared on the broadcast.  Below is a transcript of that story, entitled "Two Heartbeats Away."

If the Democrats win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives on November 7th, the next speaker of the House will almost certainly be Nancy Pelosi. She would be the first-ever woman speaker, second in the line of succession, just two heartbeats away from the presidency. The 66-year-old congresswoman from San Francisco has represented one of the most liberal districts in the country for nearly 20 years. Since she was elected Democratic leader of the House four years ago, she's been happy to push other members of Congress to the microphones to speak for the party. But now, she says, her time has come. More front-and-center lately, she has been the point person, for instance, in the party's attacks about the page scandal. She keeps promising that if she becomes speaker, she'd bring civility back to Washington. Just not now.

Lesley Stahl: You have called your Republican colleagues...

Representative Nancy Pelosi: Right.

Lesley Stahl: These are quotes,"immoral," "corrupt." You say they're running a criminal enterprise. I mean, you're one of the reasons we have to restore civility in the first place.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, actually, when I called them those names, I was being gentle. There are much worse things I could have said about them.

Oh, really? It's hard to imagine.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: No evidence of honest leadership.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: A failed Republican do-nothing Congress...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: The arrogance of power of the White House...

Here she is on the president's handling of Katrina.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: The president said he's going to lead the investigation into what went wrong. He need look only in the mirror, for starters.

Lesley Stahl: If you're speaker... I'm wondering how you'll work with him. I mean, you--here are some of the things--only some of the things you have called him: "an incompetent leader."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Right.

Lesley Stahl: You said, "In fact, he's not a leader; he's a person with no judgement." Ooh.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: That's right.

Lesley Stahl: It even stings to hear it now. I mean, obviously, the two of you are bound to get along just great.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: You know, it--we're professionals. We're professionals. You could go through a long list of things his surrogates have said about me. I know they have to do what they have to do, and they know I have to do what I have to do. And what I have to do is make a distinction in the public that's between the Democrats and the Republicans in order to win. This isn't personal, this is about...

Lesley Stahl: It sounds personal.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: This isn't personal.

Lesley Stahl: He's "incompetent," he's...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, I think he is.

Lesley Stahl: That's personal.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well...

Lesley Stahl: And he has no...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I'm sorry. That's his problem.

Lesley Stahl: How does this raise the level of civility?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, this is a--well, we're in a political debate here. We didn't come here to have a tea party together and toss a coin to see who would win on an issue. I have very thick skin. I don't care what they say about me.

And she needs that thick skin.

(Excerpt of political television ad)

She's being used for target practice.

(Excerpt of political television ad)

Republicans, including the president, go after her, saying if she's speaker, it'll mean a weaker military, pampering of terrorists, and higher taxes.

President George W. Bush: When we lowered the taxes for families with children, she voted against it. When we put the death tax on the road to extinction, she voted against it. Time and time again, she had an opportunity to show her love for tax cuts, and she voted no.

Pelosi doubts the attacks will work, since most Americans have no idea who she is. Besides, at the urging of her colleagues, she has downplayed her pro-abortion rights, anti-gun position since becoming leader, instead promoting more centrist issues, like raising the minimum wage and energy independence.

Lesley Stahl: Well, you don't talk about the big liberal issues you used to fight for up here.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I've never walked away from any of my positions. I take pride in them.

Lesley Stahl: Gay marriage?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, that's an issue that is not an issue that we're fighting about here.

One issue she is fighting about here is Iraq.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Are we safer in America because of this war?

She opposed the war from the start. And now, like her, most Democrats support a phased withdrawal of troops beginning later this year.

Lesley Stahl: Does that not open you up then to that charge of cutting and running? This is just what they're saying.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: The issue is them. The issue is the war that they got us into. If the president wants to say the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, he's not right.

Lesley Stahl: Do you not think that the war in Iraq now, today, is the war on terror?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: No. The war on terror is the war in Afghanistan. That is what...

Lesley Stahl: But you don't think that the terrorists have moved into Iraq now?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: They have.

Lesley Stahl: Well...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: The jihadists in Iraq. But that doesn't mean we stay there. That means--they'll stay there as long as we're there. They're there because we're there.

Lesley Stahl: What do you say to a Republican--I've heard this--that you, meaning the Democrats, but Nancy Pelosi as well, do not understand the serious nature of this threat, of the jihadists?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I, as a mother and a grandmother, 14 years on the intelligence committee, don't tell me I have any underestimation of what the threat is to our country. So if you want to justify your failed policy by saying we don't understand the threat, clearly you didn't understand the situation you got us into.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: You don't just go into a war as a--on a whim.

The Democrats think Iraqi is a winning issue for them, and so Pelosi fires away as she campaigns for different candidates almost every day. Here she is in Armani in Connecticut.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Win this election. Take the country in a new direction.

Here she is in cowboy boots in Minnesota farm country.

Man: So have you been to Minnesota before?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Oh, many times.

Man: Go ahead and eat.

Where she had not one pork chop on a stick...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: This is delicious.

But two!

Lesley Stahl: So this is Tip O'Neill's office?

Pelosi's Capitol Hill office is the one once used by Tip O'Neill when he was speaker 20 years ago.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Here's a picture when I was a little girl, when I swore my father in when he became mayor of Baltimore.

Nothing prepared her for power more than growing up in Baltimore, the daughter of Tommy D'Alesandro, an old school Democrat. She learned the secrets of political organizing when she used to help keep track of favors owed her father during his 12 years as mayor.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I was pampered in the fact that I had five older brothers, which I highly recommend to anyone.

Nancy was the youngest of six children, and the only girl in a strict Catholic family.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I wanted to be independent. And they were always, you know, "Oh, you can't do this. You can't do that," telling me all the things I couldn't do.

Lesley Stahl: You never rebelled?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: No. I was--I was not.

Lesley Stahl: Never?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: It wasn't even an option. This is the '50s.

Lesley Stahl: Did you ever sneak out?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: Ahh. Nancy Pelosi...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Don't tell.

Lesley Stahl: OK. No telling.

Paul Pelosi: She loves to dance, which she does well. She loves to sing, which she doesn't do well.

At college, she met her husband, Paul Pelosi, now a wealthy San Francisco investment banker. In fact, she's the eighth richest member of the House. He says he doesn't give his wife advice, except for one thing.

Lesley Stahl: You buy her clothes?

Paul Pelosi: Oh. Well, she hates to shop.

Lesley Stahl: You pick out her clothes? Wow.

Paul Pelosi: Well...

Lesley Stahl: Sort of. Actually.

Paul Pelosi: I have--yes.

Lesley Stahl: Yes.

Paul Pelosi says that, for years, a career in politics was the farthest thing from her mind.

Paul Pelosi: It wasn't even on the table. It wasn't even part of the discussion.

Lesley Stahl: It was never going to happen?

Paul Pelosi: There was nothing in her personality. It was never going to happen.

Lesley Stahl: So what happened?

Paul Pelosi: Well, we end up in San Francisco, we raise our five children, and, when the children were in school all day, then she started doing volunteer stuff.

Christine Pelosi: Five kids born, six years and one week, so between...

Lesley Stahl: She was pregnant the whole time.

Christine Pelosi: For most of the '60s, yes.

Christine, the second oldest of four daughters and one son, says her mother was the disciplinarian and drill sergeant in the family then, as she is in Congress now.

Christine Pelosi: So we were always expected to make sure that our homework was done and that we were prepared for what we did. She would always say, "Proper preparation prevents poor performance."

Lesley Stahl: You had these little slogans that you...

Christine Pelosi: We had these little slogans.

As the kids got older, Pelosi threw herself into state politics, eventually becoming chairman of the California Democratic Party. She didn't run for Congress till she was 46. And now at 66, as she's poised to go down in the history books, what Nancy Pelosi wants you to know is that, when it comes to her real goal in life, she's just like any other woman her age.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: It's great. It's fabulous. It was my goal in life, and now I've achieved it. I'm a grandmother.

Ask Nancy Pelosi to describe herself, and the first thing out of her mouth is that she's a mother of five...

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: The category is "The Flintstones."

...and a grandmother of five.

Lesley Stahl: When I asked your daughter Christine how you "rule," she said you were motherly.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I guess it depends on your definition of motherly. If motherly means we're going to have order in the house, yes.

Lesley Stahl: That's motherly.

Well, she's certainly brought order to the Democrats. She has insisted on no more bickering in public and just saying no to nearly everything that comes out of the Bush White House. In other words, party discipline, kind of like the Republicans do it. As a result, Democrats now vote together more often than they have since Eisenhower was president. How has someone so clearly not one of the boys managed to keep them in line? Well, one way is money.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, here we are again...

Representative Charles Rangel: Take my names off the checks. Just give it to her.

She has personally raised more than $100 million, second only to Bill and Hillary Clinton, which she dispenses generously to her colleagues. Another way she rules is through good, old-fashioned hardball.

Lesley Stahl: People say Nancy Pelosi is tough as nails.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I'm very strong. I don't know tough, but...

Lesley Stahl: Every time I ask you about it, you retreat into, "Oh, no, I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: No.

Lesley Stahl: You are tough. You have to--I mean, it goes without saying.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I'm tough.

Lesley Stahl: You got there. You did it.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, I heard somebody say the other day, when they said, "You should see how tough she was on a certain subject." And one of my other colleagues said, "You have no idea."

One thing she does is threaten to deny plum assignments to members who vote with the Republicans. But by keeping her troops in lockstep, her critics say she has worsened the gridlock and partisan bitterness in Congress.

Lesley Stahl: What's this meeting about?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Now, this meeting is our Democratic caucus. This is our last huddle.

Pelosi took us to the last election strategy session House Democrats held before they went off to campaign.

Man: Our leader, Nancy Pelosi.

The mood was buoyant, with credit going to Pelosi for bringing them so close to retaking the House with her strategy of not letting one Republican attack go unanswered.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: So let's hear it for the Democrats! Are we ready to win?

With just 16 days to the election...

Woman: Ladies and gentlemen, the next speaker and first madam speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

...Nancy Pelosi, who already made history once when she became minority leader, thinks she's about to do it again.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, you have to understand, breaking the--here we call it the marble ceiling. This makes glass look like nothing. This is a marble ceiling.

Lesley Stahl: Right.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Democrats are going to...

And breaking it, she says, would help all women.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Onward!

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: I believe if I become speaker of the House and, in that highly visible role, show the American people that women know how to use power, that I think it helps all women in the political process or whatever field they're in, but I think it will be a plus.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: This is it.

She has pledged that as speaker she would give the Republicans rights they've denied the Democrats, like allowing them to introduce amendments to bills. But she may have trouble reining in the Democrats' appetite for revenge. There's already been talk of multiple investigations and impeachment of the president.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: No, impeachment is off the table.

Lesley Stahl: Off the table. And that's a pledge?

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Well, it's a pledge in the--yes, I mean, it's a pledge. Of course it is. It is not--it is a waste of time.

Lesley Stahl: So that's completely off the table.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Wouldn't they just love it if we came in and our record as Democrats coming forth in 12 years is to talk about George Bush and Dick Cheney? This election is about them. This is a referendum on them. Making them lame ducks is good enough for me.