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Pelosi Fields Suprise 'View' Hardballs

If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had expected the women of ABC’s “The View” to throw her a few softballs about being the first female speaker, she was badly mistaken.

It took the gossip-mongering gals less than a minute Tuesday to cut to an exquisitely pointed question about the big issue of the day.

“The Democrats came in. They were going to try to bring the troops home. They were going try to end the war,” intoned Barbara Walters, one of the talk show’s hosts.

She paused, gravitas filling the air. Then, in a voice dripping with disappointment, asked: “What happened?”

It was the kind of question Pelosi, a California Democrat, has been fielding a lot these days: serious, impromptu and asked as a roomful of other questioners wait to pounce.

After eight months of sporadic exposure, Pelosi is again opening up to questioning from the media hordes.

In September, she began holding weekly press conferences to highlight Democratic accomplishments in Congress. And on Tuesday, she submitted to a freewheeling grilling on “The View.”

Political insiders say Pelosi’s higher profile is designed to draw more media attention to congressional Democrats, boosting awareness of their accomplishments on children’s health insurance, lobbying reform, student loans and stem cell research, while explaining why they haven’t been able to end the war.

Few people are aware of what Democrats have done this year, polls show.

Aside from the hike in the minimum wage and the ongoing Iraq debate, their efforts remain largely unheralded.

Approval ratings for Congress are still low, even though most Americans agree with congressional Democrats on the big issues.

And congressional Democrats will face an added challenge in the coming year as the presidential race begins to dominate headlines.

As the first female speaker, Pelosi has a unique appeal extending beyond her immediate role in Congress.

Shows such as “The View” have little interest in male politicians, but Pelosi is a different sort. Some Democrats have urged her in recent months to exploit her position for greater effect.

“I’ve heard some people ask, ‘How come she’s not out more? She should be out more,’” said one senior Democratic aide. “She’s definitely been judicious about the interviews she’s done. It’s not like she’s been completely off the scene, but there’s definitely been a feeling that we’re not breaking through on Iraq and that she has a megaphone that nobody else in the caucus has, not even [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.].”

Pelosi was asked at her first weekly press conference in September why she had decided, nine months into her term, to start speaking regularly with reporters.

“I’ve been very busy. I had to do my legislative agenda. Now that most of it is becoming law or at least going to the president’s desk, we can talk more about it,” she said.

On “The View,” Pelosi dodged the Iraq question.

“Well, we are trying to [end the war],” she said. “We have a contrast here between the 10-year, $1 trillion war the president is proposing, and we’re talking about a year that redeployment begins as soon as safely possible and ends within a year. That’s the debate.”

Pelosi has at times been criticized as a poor public speaker, and several times Tuesday she appeared to struggle.

Still, when the show’s conservative stalwart, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, laid into her with more questions on Iraq, Pelosi pulled out an applause-winning line.

Hasselbeck asked why Democrats want to remove troops from Iraq when a new report showed the civilian death toll falling.

“Now we’re seeing a reduction in those civilian deaths and giving them the space that they do need for that political chane. That is happening,” Hasselbeck said. “In my mind, and I’m sure many others, that’s seen as a success.”

Pelosi sweated the question for a moment before answering.

“Elisabeth, if I may, with all due respect,” she said, “there are still a lot of people dying.”

In her eight-minute appearance, Pelosi never got to talk much about the easy stuff.

She wasn’t asked what it is like being the first female speaker or what Democrats have done to help provide children with health insurance.

She did, however, slip in this marathon iteration of accomplishments: “The highest ethical standard, the toughest fiscal discipline, no new deficit spending and raise the minimum wage — first time in 10 years — biggest increase in veterans’ benefits in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration, biggest package for assisting students for higher education.

“But you don’t know about it because the war is the big issue. We’ll have to talk about it more.”