Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful woman in American political history. She's been speaker of the House not once, but twice. And President George W. Bush's nickname for her was "3" because of her place in line for the presidency.
Under her leadership last year, the Democrats won back control of the House. The San Francisco liberal is now the voice of her party and chief critic of President Trump; she's also keeping close tabs on at least six House committees investigating the president. And she's pressing for release of the full, unredacted Mueller report.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: The Mueller report is about an attack on our elections by a foreign government. And we want to know about that. We wanna know about that in terms of being able to prevent it from happening again. So it's bigger even than Donald Trump.
She says she doesn't trust Attorney General William Barr.
Lesley Stahl: Do you think that the attorney general is covering anything up?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: I have no idea. I have no idea. He may be whitewashing, but I don't know if he's covering anything up. There's no use having that discussion. All we need to do is see the Mueller report.
Lesley Stahl: And asking for the president's tax returns?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: It should not have taken this long for the president-- he said he was under audit. When I was in a-- I was going to a Martin Luther King breakfast in San Francisco and one of the waiters there said to me, "Madame Speaker, when the president says the Mueller report's going on too long just tell him not as long as your audit." (LAUGHTER) Everybody has released their returns and we will have legislation to say that everyone should-- must, but for the moment he's been hi-- so what's he hiding?
She's just hit her 100th day as speaker. She recently called the president to ask for a meeting on infrastructure, but there's no sign that the gridlock that has plagued Congress for years is easing.
Lesley Stahl: One of the complaints we've heard is that you don't reach across the aisle because it seems like right now nothing is getting done. You pass things-- whatever it is dies in the Senate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Nothing died. Nothing's died. We already put together 100 days, the fact that we even passed them in the House is a victory. Let's figure out the places-- figure out where we can find common ground. There's always been bipartisan support for Dreamers, bipartisan support for gun safety, bipartisan support for infrastructure.
Lesley Stahl: But why doesn't anything get done--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: We just started.
Lesley Stahl: --with the Dreamers?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: We just started. We're three months since we were in-- in office.
Lesley Stahl: But you're talking about 100 days. This president's been in office for two years plus.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: And we've been here three months. Hey, may I introduce you to the idea of the spout-- power of the speaker is to set the agenda. We didn't have a speaker who would bring a gun bill to the floor. We didn't have a speaker who would bring a Dreamers issue to the floor. We do now. And that's a very big difference. The power of the speaker is awesome. Awesome.
But her becoming speaker was in doubt last December when a group in her caucus agitated for a change to someone younger. It was the president, of all people, who rescued her, in that now famous Oval Office meeting.
President Trump in Oval Office meeting: You know, Nancy's in a situation where it's not easy for her to talk right now.
That did not sit well with her.
Speaker Pelsoi in Oval Office meeting: Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength I bring to this meeting as a leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory…
Right after the meeting, she walked to the mics in her orange coat, with a whole new image, her ascendance to the speakership no longer in jeopardy.
Lesley Stahl: You seem to be one of the very, very few people who have stood up to him and won.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: No, people do. People do. It-- it is--
Lesley Stahl: Maybe not so much in public the way-- this was televised.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Well, that was his problem. In other words I tried to say let's not have this conversation in the public domain because you're saying things that we have to contradict because they're not true. And he said, "Oh, I want the public to see it." Well, you want them to see that you don't-- don't know what you're talking about? Really?
Lesley Stahl: Here's what you've said. You've said, "If someone's ripping your face off. You rip their face off." (LAUGH)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Oh yeah, I would do that.
Lesley Stahl: And that's what it was like. (LAUGH) And, you know, you have this--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Yeah, I probably said that. Yeah. They just have to know. You throw a punch, you better take a punch.
Lesley Stahl: From a grandmother.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Yeah.
Then, at the State of the Union, she did her mocking clap and it went viral.
Now, if you go to her own campaign website, you'll see she's touting herself as "The Patron Saint of Shade."
Lesley Stahl: This is your new branding of Nancy Pelosi. Kind of like a giant slayer almost, or--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Well, I think that it--
Lesley Stahl: --muscular.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: No, I think I happen to be a manifestation of the women power that is coming forth now, but only one manifestation.
Today she's a more self-assured Nancy Pelosi, more willing to promote herself.
Speaker Pelosi at November 7, 2018, press conference: I think I'm the best person to go forward.
She told us that our Democratic values are being threatened, and says unabashedly, that she is the right person to stand up for them.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: As our founders said, when they declared independence and established a new nation, The times have found us. The times found Lincoln. Not to be presumptuous to put ourselves in those categories, but the times have found us, not because we're so great, but because of the urgency that-- of the-- situation that our country faces because of the situation in the White House.
In January she swore in the 116th Congress. That includes 43 new Democrats from Republican districts who are called "the moderates."
Plus, the most diverse caucus in history with unprecedented numbers of people of color and a record 91 women. She is given high marks, even among Republicans we spoke to, for her skills as a legislator and effective negotiator.
We spoke to a group of Democratic congresswomen, veterans and freshmen, to ask how she wields her power.
Rep. Anna Eshoo: She constantly is weaving, weaving people together.
Rep. Karen Bass: I-- I like the way that the president can't figure out--
Rep. Anna Eshoo: And she is a moderating force.
Rep. Karen Bass: --how to deal with her.
VOICES: Yes. (CLAPPING)
Rep. Karen Bass: The president has no idea.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: But-- but part of that is because she has the experience. It's not easy to get through-- the legislative process in congress.
Rep. Primila Jayapa: As the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, she doesn't try to shut something down before it needs to be shutdown.
Lesley Stahl: How many of you are going to be willing to tell me how afraid you are of her?
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster: She's the first person in my life that has (LAUGH) scared the heck out of me. (LAUGH) I'm honestly-- but I have so much respect for her. And it's this combination of courage and grace.
Lesley Stahl: But why were you afraid of her?
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster: Trust me. You don't wanna cross her. (LAUGH)
Lesley Stahl: It's what I heard.
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster: There were times early on where we had to take difficult votes. (LAUGH) I'm kind of embarrassed. We would run to the ladies room after the vote.
Lesley Stahl: You'd run and hide?
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster: Yeah.
Lesley Stahl: Some of them told us that they're afraid of you.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Oh, no, they're not.
Lesley Stahl: And if they vote against you, if they don't toe the line, that they run out the back--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Oh, they do that, yeah.
Lesley Stahl: --and they hide in phone booths, and they run--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: But the men do that, too. That's not just the women.
But she does get pushback, for instance, from 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, AOC, who has proposed some out-of-the-mainstream measures.
Lesley Stahl: So you are contending with a group in Congress: Over here on the left flank are these self-described socialists, on the right, these moderates. And you yourself said that you're the only one who can unify everybody. And the question is can you?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: By and large, whatever orientation they came to Congress with, they know that we have to hold the center. That we have to be m-- go down the mainstream.
Lesley Stahl: They know that--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: They do.
Lesley Stahl: But it doesn't look like that. It looks as if it-- you're-- it's fractured.
She likes to minimizes the conflicts within her caucus. Between the moderates and the progressives.
Lesley Stahl: You have these wings-- AOC, and her group on one side--
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: That's like five people.
Lesley Stahl: No, it's-- the progressive group is more than five.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Well, the progressive-- I'm a progressive. Yeah.
Lesley Stahl: Well, as I understand it the progressives want radical change. They wanna get rid of Obamacare and replace it with Medicare for all. I was under the impression that you had said that you do not favor Medicare for all, that-- ACA, Obamacare is better.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Well, Affordable Care Act is better than Medicare, there's no question about that. The Affordable Care Act benefits are better. Medicare doesn't have a catastrophic plan. So if you want Medicare for all you're gonna have to change Medicare and let's take a look at that.
Lesley Stahl: Well, Medicare for all-- it's not only being pushed by some members of your caucus, but also some of the presidential candidates. And it is allowing the president to say you're all socialists.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Do you know that when we did Med-- when Medicare was done by the Congress at the time, under Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan said, Medicare will lead us to a socialist dictatorship. This is-- this is an ongoing theme of the Republicans. However-- I do reject socialism as an economic system. If people have that view, that's their view. That is not the view of the Democratic Party.
Speaker Pelosi is now the most public face of the Democratic Party. Its most successful fundraiser and the agenda setter.
She works tirelessly, always on the move - in three-inch heels – at 79.
Even when she takes time to visit one of her 9 grandchildren, as she did recently with Bella and her mother Christine, Nancy's second, it's brief.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: This weekend, I came from Washington to San Francisco. On Sunday-- I'll be in Los Angeles. Monday, St. Louis. And then Chicago and then New York.
Lesley Stahl: Wow.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: And then Boston. And then Florida. (LAUGH) And then back to California. And then back to Washington.
Lesley Stahl: That's one week?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Yeah. (LAUGH) Yes, that's one week. A lot of peanuts and pretzels on the plane. (LAUGH)
It's not exactly an accident that Nancy Pelosi became speaker, given how she grew up. Politics was the family business: her father, Thomas D'Alesandro, was a congressman from Baltimore and then the mayor.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: I was born into a family that was devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic and staunchly Democratic.
She got married right after college to Paul Pelosi, an investment banker, and had five children in six years.
At age 46 she was drafted to run for Congress and won in 1987, when there were only 23 women in the House.
Lesley Stahl: When there were only 23-- did any of the big bulls, the men-- it was a men's club, obviously-- encourage you to run for leadership, to lift your head up?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: You have to understand. When they're only 23, men are not threatened by the women in Congress, you understand? They're not threatened by that. "That's-- that's nice. That's nice, we have some women here--"
Lesley Stahl: Pat you on the top of your head?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: But when you get to have numbers and you wanna be-- run for leader, then that's a different story. Then they're, like, "Why are they all gathering in the well?" They all have the same color on today. What are they up to?"
In her prime, at nearly 80, she's deploying everything she's got into keeping the House in Democratic hands, flipping the Senate and, above all, defeating the president.
Lesley Stahl: How would you describe President Trump?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: How would I describe him. I think that he describes himself on a daily basis and-- I think that there's nobody in the country who knows better that he should not be president of the United States than Donald Trump.
Lesley Stahl: You think he knows it himself?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: I think he does. Yeah. But I respect the office he holds and, uh, he's not-- worth the trouble of saying you're so horrible we can't work together. No, we need to work together.
Lesley Stahl: You have complained, I'm quoting you, President Trump h-- is engaged in an "unconstitutional assault on the Constitution."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: That's right. He has.
Lesley Stahl: And what do you think the future of our system is if that's true?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Well, I think our future-- is strong enough-- built on a strong foundation to withstand everything including the current occupant of the White House. I don't think for two terms though.
Produced by Ruth Streeter and Kaylee Tully.
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