Nancy Pelosi: Two Heartbeats Away

Lesley Stahl Profiles The Woman Who Could Become the Next Speaker Of The House

If the Democrats win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives on Nov. 7, the next Speaker of the House will almost certainly be Nancy Pelosi. She would be the first woman Speaker and 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 has 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. As correspondent Lesley Stahl reports, she keeps promising that if she becomes Speaker, she would bring civility back to Washington: just not now.

Pelosi has called her Republican colleagues "immoral" and "corrupt," and has said they're running a criminal enterprise.

"I mean, you're one of the reasons we have to restore civility in the first place," Stahl remarks.

"Well actually, when I called them those names, I was being gentle," Pelosi says. "There are much worse things I could've said about them."

Oh really? It's hard to imagine.

Here is what she said about the president's handling of Hurricane Katrina: "The president said he's going to lead the investigation into what went wrong. He need look only in the mirror, for starters."

"But if you're Speaker, I'm wondering – how you'll work with him. I mean, here are some of the things – only some of the things you have called him, 'an incompetent leader,'" Stahl says. "You said, 'In fact, he's not a leader. He's a person who has no judgment.'"

"That's right," Pelosi says.

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

"You know, 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," Pelosi says. "This isn't personal."

"It sounds personal," Stahl remarks.

"This isn't personal," Pelosi says.

"He's "incompetent", he's…," Stahl continues.

"Well, I think he is," Pelosi states.

"Well, that's personal," Stahl points out.

"Well, I'm sorry, that's his problem," Pelosi replies.

"How does this raise the level of civility?" Stahl asks.

"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," Pelosi says. "I have very thick skin, I don't care what they say about me."

And she needs that thick skin. She's being used for target practice.

GOP ads have labeled her "liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi." One Republican ad says "she'll reward illegal aliens with welfare, food-stamps, and free education. How do we stop her?"

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

"When we lowered the taxes for families with children, she voted against it. And when we put the death tax on the road to extinction, she voted against it. Time and again, when she had an opportunity to show her love for tax cuts, she has voted 'no,'" President Bush has said of Pelosi.

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 positions since becoming leader, instead promoting more centrist issues like raising the minimum wage and energy independence.