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First woman elected speaker in the House of Representatives breaks the 'marble ceiling' and becomes the most powerful woman in the US

By unknown | Jan 09, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Nancy Pelosi, a 66-year-old grandmother, last week became the most powerful woman in the US.

Nancy Pelosi, a 66-year-old grandmother, last week became the most powerful woman in the US.

She outranks Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, and is second in the presidential line of succession behind Dick Cheney. And now she's gunning for President George Bush.

As the Democrat donkeys took over from the Republican elephants in congress, Pelosi was the first woman in US history to be elected as speaker in the House of Representatives and the first Democrat to hold the post in 12 years. Watched by her beaming millionaire husband, five children and six grandchildren, she said at the swearing- in ceremony: "We have broken the marble ceiling."

Pelosi represents the Californian city of San Francisco. B ehind the fixed smile and perfect grooming is a ruthless and formidable pragmatist as tough as old boots, said detractors.

"If people are ripping your face off, you have to rip their face off," she said.

Republicans accused her of arrogance for organising three days of "self-aggrandising" celebrations, which included a tea for 400 women politicians, a dinner at the Italian embassy in Washington and a R7245-a-ticket event featuring Bennett, Wyclef Jean and Carole King, and Richard Gere.

To some it was a reminder of the celebrity-studded Bill Clinton era - "the kind of Washington we would see if Hillary Clinton is elected president next year," said one observer.

Pelosi's rise owes much to her knack of raising millions of dollars for her colleagues' campaigns - she has stumped up R20277 million of her own money for Democratic candidates since 1999 - and collecting her IOUs at key moments.

It was a habit she picked up as the daughter of Thomas "Big Tommy" D'Alesandro, the legendary mayor of Baltimore and machine politician who served five terms in congress before running the city for 12 years.

He taught his sixth child and only daughter how to count votes the way that other fathers teach mathematics.

She grew up recording the requests and hard luck stories of those who trooped into the family home in the district of Little Italy.

Their names were noted in a "favours file" to be called in on election days. Those who failed to come through became outcasts. Big Tommy's daughter also has a reputation for bearing grudges.

Pelosi is a pro-abortionist who voted against the 1991 Gulf war and the Iraq war. But, the voting record of Washington's latest political "It" girl is of less interest to gossip columnists than her fashion sense.

Unlike most female politicians, who are criticised if they depart from a stiff, boxy, look, she has been pronounced chic and a fashion icon for flirting with such colours as sea foam, pale pink and red.

At last week's women's tea, she wore a necklace of Tahitian pearls that, when first seen on television, prompted dozens of enquiries at jewellers. The uncharitable attribute her youthful features to a facelift, a claim she has dismissed.

Bush was one of the first people to congratulate her on the day the Democrats swept to power, but the gesture went awry.

Pelosi, expecting a call from her pregnant daughter, Alexandra, who was six days overdue, picked up the phone and demanded: "Do we have a baby?" The White House operator was a little flummoxed.

Bush and Pelosi began by making appeals for cooperation for the public good, but no one is in any doubt about their mutual contempt.

"He is an incompetent leader. In fact, he is not a leader," she said in 2004.

"He's a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subject he has to decide on."

For his part, Bush was happy to let others vilify her as a crazed liberal.

But simple arithmetic is pushing them towards cohabitation. The Democrats lack the two-thirds majority required to overrule Bush. Pelosi has committed herself to pushing through six new laws, but Bush's veto hangs over them all. Fortunately for Pelosi, one of her first proposed measures is uncontroversial - tighter ethical rules for congressmen after recent lobbying scandals.

Iraq presents her with a tricky challenge. A staunch opponent of the war, Pelosi will have to walk a tightrope.

"Her difficulty is to ensure that the government is held to account without making the Democrats look as if they are trying to drag the country down or deny there's a threat to America out there," said a journalist.

Pelosi has been used to getting her way since she was born on March 26 in 1940.

"There wasn't a lot of money for the best kind of clothes, but whatever the family could afford, Nancy got the best of," recalled her brother, Thomas, who served as mayor of Baltimore from 1967 to 1971.

He said that "Little Nancy" never went through an awkward, ugly-duckling phase.

"She wasn't a tomboy."

Pelosi graduated in 1962 from Trinity Washington University, where she had met Paul Pelosi, now an investment banker whose wealth has been estimated at R181million.

Pelosi waited until her youngest child was a high school senior before climbing the ladder of Democratic politics.

"She got her children out of the way and with her husband's money she bought a political career," said an observer.

Though unknown to the public, she cracked the whip in her own ranks. One of her favourite one-liners was: "It'll take a woman to clean House." She is credited with instilling discipline in a party prone to squabbling.

If her audiences chattered while she was speaking, she asked: "Am I going to have to use my 'mother-of-five' voice?"

"She's absolutely giddy at the thought of being America's most powerful woman," said one journalist. - The Sunday Times, London


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