As a young political protégé of her father, Baltimore Mayor Tommy D’Alesandro, the preteen speaker-to-be would spend hours leafing through the list of voters her father had helped in some way — fixing a pothole, finding them a job, even getting them a hot meal.
It was known as the “favor file.”
Those around Pelosi say she has always kept her own favor file. But, like her father, she has also maintained a “disfavor file” in her head — a roster of those whom she believes have screwed up, betrayed her, challenged her or merely annoyed her.
In some cases, Pelosi has mended fences with people on the list, most notably House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), a former party rival who has become an indispensable lieutenant.
But she has also moved to strip power from longtime adversaries — and she has a propensity for remembering slights and grievances for years.
Hawkish Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who clashed with Pelosi on Iraq and intelligence policy, assumed she was in line to become chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee when the Democrats seized control of the House in 2006. But Pelosi refused to appoint Harman to even a seat on the committee, and she handed the chairmanship to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).
As speaker, she did nothing to stop her ally Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) from ousting Rep. John Dingell as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee after clashing with the octogenarian Michigan Democrat on energy policy and global warming.
The list, Pelosi allies say, is real — even as they warn that overstating her vindictiveness feeds into the right-wing caricatures of Pelosi and perpetuates ethnic and gender stereotypes.
Moreover, they argue that portraying her as payback-obsessed misses a fundamental political point: Despite her commanding majority, Pelosi is painfully aware that powerful speakers, including Republican Joe Cannon, have been toppled for using their power heavy-handedly.
“She’s not a vengeful person, per se, and she thinks that people who do bad things eventually get their due without her intervention,” a longtime associate said on condition of anonymity.
“But that doesn’t mean she forgets.”
So who’s on Pelosi’s list now?
1. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). No Democrat has done quite so much in so short a time to arouse Pelosi’s disdain as the failed-Redskins-quarterback-turned-ambitious-North-Carolina-congressman.
The conservative, anti-abortion Shuler would have made the list for voting against both bank bailout bills and the stimulus package, but the way he went about it didn’t help; Shuler told an audience back home that “House leadership and Senate leadership have really failed” on the $787 billion package.
The thing that riles Pelosi most, according to several House aides, is that she believes Shuler’s motives are as much political as they are ideological — and that he’s picking a fight with her to position himself for a run against Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) next year.
Unless Shuler is planning a long House career, picking a fight with Pelosi may indeed have its advantages: His 2006 opponent, incumbent GOP Rep. Charles Taylor, scored points by portraying Shuler as a Pelosi acolyte.
“I don’t know if Shuler is talking without thinking or if he’s just making the calculation that distancing himself from Pelosi is never a bad thing to do,” said a senior House leadership aide.
2. Rush Limbaugh. He’s Pelosi’s sworn enemy — and she views him as beneath contempt and unworthy of her comment.
Asked about the right-wing talk-radio king the other day, Pelosi said: “I don’t speak to that. I’m the speaker of the House. I don’t get into the popular culture.”
3. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D-a.). Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made an all-out effort to help the veteran Scranton congressman win a tight race against longtime nemesis Lou Barletta last fall.
So aides say the speaker was taken aback when the western Pennsylvania representative bucked leadership by voting “no” on the original version of the stimulus bill.
He voted for the conference report later, but hard feelings persist.
4. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.). It’s no surprise that Pelosi isn’t crazy about the young, aggressive minority whip, who has marshaled an anti-Pelosi GOP insurgency in the House.
Pelosi has good personal relationship with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). But members of her leadership cadre are starting to really dislike Cantor, despite their public pose of studied indifference. Part of the reason: Cantor is employing many of the same techniques Pelosi used so successfully to torture former House Speaker Dennis Hastert when she was the Democratic whip in 2002 and 2003.
It remains to be seen if Cantor’s power-of-“no” philosophy will work — congressional approval ratings have actually spiked on the stimulus — but he’s gotten traction by nitpicking Pelosi’s proposals and magnifying the majority’s blunders.
5. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.). The fiscally conservative gadfly would have topped the list had he not reversed his first stimulus “no” by voting in favor of the final package.
Even so, the most outspoken of the Blue Dog Democrats is still on thin ice with leadership, thanks to his comment that he “actually got some quiet encouragement from the Obama folks” for initially bucking Pelosi on the stimulus. That required a hasty Obama-Pelosi cleanup effort that resulted in a Cooper clarification — although he continues to express dissatisfaction with what he sees as Pelosi’s top-down leadership style.
Counterintuitively, Cooper enjoys a good relationship with many in Pelosi’s inner circle, including Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Waxman — with whom Cooper shared a long lunch at the Democrats’ recent retreat in Williamsburg, Va.
6. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). The squeakiest liberal wheel in the House has always been more than willing to articulate his differences with leadership.
But his role as the lone Democrat to switch from “yes” on the original stimulus bill to a “no” on the House-Senate compromise was viewed as grandstanding in the speaker’s suite.
DeFazio, who chairs a subcommittee on highways and transit, makes a compelling counterargument, saying he was betrayed by Pelosi’s acceptance of lower-than-promised allocations for infrastructure representing 8 percent of the total package.
7. The House Appropriations Committee staff. Pelosi’s relationship with Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) remains strong. But she was reportedly infuriated that Obey’s staff failed to scrub the first draft of the stimulus bill of politically damaging proposals such as billions for resodding the National Mall, funding anti-STD programs and providing free contraceptives.
8. CIA Director Leon Panetta. Pelosi supported Panetta’s appointment at the CIA and has said nary a negative public word about her fellow Californian and former colleague.
Nonetheless, people with ties to both say the speaker was more than a little annoyed that Panetta backed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to create an independent panel to redraw the state’s legislative districts, a proposal that might have endangered Pelosi’s Democratic allies in the state Legislature.
“If you asked her, she’d say she loves Leon, but there is a strain” in their relationship, said a person with knowledge of the situation.
Dishonorable mentions: Pelosi allies Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and JohnP. Murtha (D-Pa.) aren’t in the speaker’s doghouse, but many people around her think they should be.
Murtha, whom Pelosi disastrously backed over Hoyer in the 2006 majority leader’s contest, is embroiled in a billowing scandal involving the lobbying firm PMA. And Rangel, the powerful House Ways & Means chairman, has been bogged down for months in an ethics investigation.
“Nancy is standing by them, to her detriment,” said a senior Democratic aide in the House.