CBS 60 Minutes - Transcript

CBS 60 Minutes - Transcript

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.

"You don't talk about those big liberal issues you used to fight for up here," Stahl remarks.

"I've never walked away from any of my positions. I take pride in them," the congresswoman replies.

Asked about gay marriage, Pelosi says, "Well, that's an issue that is not an issue that we're fighting about here."

One issue that she is fighting about here is Iraq. She opposed the war from the start and now, like her, most Democrats support a phased withdrawal of troops beginning later this year.

"Does that not open you up then to that charge of cutting and running? This is just what they're saying," Stahl asks.

"The issue is them. The issue is the war they got us into," Pelosi replies. "If the president wants to say the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, he's not right."

"Do you not think that the war in Iraq now, today, is the war on terror?" Stahl asks.

"No. The war on terror is the war in Afghanistan," Pelosi says.

"But you don't think that the terrorists have moved into Iraq now?" Stahl continues.

"They have," Pelosi agrees. "The jihadists in Iraq. But that doesn't mean we stay there. They'll stay there as long as we're there."

Asked what she would say to Republicans, who have said that Pelosi and the Democrats do not understand the serious nature of the threat, the congresswoman says, "I, as a mother and a grandmother, 14 years on the intelligence committee. Don't tell me I have any underestimation of what the threat is to our country. So, if you want to justify your failed policy by saying we don't understand the threat, clearly you didn't understand the situation you got us into."

The Democrats think Iraq is a winning issue for them, and so Pelosi fires away as she campaigns for different candidates almost every day, from toney towns in Connecticut to Minnesota's farm country.

Pelosi's Capitol Hill office is the one once used by Tip O'Neill when he was Speaker 20 years ago.

"Here's a picture when I was a little girl, when I swore my father in when he became Mayor of Baltimore," Pelosi says, showing Stahl the photo in her office.

Nothing prepared her for power more than growing up in Baltimore, the daughter of Tommy D'Alessandro, an old school Democrat. She learned the secrets of political organizing, when she used to help keep track of favors owed her father during his 12 years as mayor.

"I was pampered in the fact that I had five older brothers, which I highly recommend to anyone," she says.

Nancy was the youngest of six children, and the only girl, in a strict Catholic family.

"I wanted to be independent. And they were always, you know, 'Oh, you can't do this, you can't do that.' Telling me all the things I couldn't do," Pelosi recalls.

Asked whether she ever rebelled, Pelosi says, "No. It wasn't even an option. This is the 50s."

But she did admit that she did sneak out. "Don't tell anybody," she told Stahl, laughing.

At college, she met her husband Paul Pelosi, now a wealthy San Francisco investment banker. In fact, she's the eight richest member of the House. He says he doesn't give his wife advice, except for one thing: he picks out her clothes. "Well, she hates to shop," he explains.

Paul Pelosi says that for years, a career in politics was the farthest thing from his wife's mind. "It wasn't even on the table. It wasn't even part of the discussion," he says. "Nothing in her personality - it was never going to happen."

So what happened?

"Well, we end up in San Francisco. We raise our five children and when the children were in school all day, then she started doing volunteer stuff," Pelosi recalls.

Pelosi had five kids, born in six years and one week, and was pregnant for a good portion of the 1960s.

Christine, the second oldest of four daughters and one son, says, her mother was the disciplinarian and drill sergeant in the family then, as she is in Congress now.

"We were always expected to make sure our homework was done; and that we were prepared for what we did. She would always say, 'Proper preparation prevents poor performance,'" Christine remembers.

As the kids got older, Pelosi threw herself into state politics, eventually becoming chairman of the California Democratic party. She didn't run for Congress until she was 46, and now at 66, as she's poised to go down in the history books, what Nancy Pelosi wants you to know is that when it comes to her real goal in life: she's just like any other woman her age.

"It's great. It's fabulous. It was my goal in life and now I've achieved it. I'm a grandmother," Pelosi says laughing.

Ask Nancy Pelosi to describe herself and the first thing out of her mouth is that she's a mother of five and a grandmother of five.

"When I asked your daughter Christine how you rule, she said you were motherly," Stahl tells Pelosi.

"I guess it depends on your definition of motherly. If motherly means - we'll have order in the house, yes," she replies.

Well, she's certainly brought order to the Democrats. She has insisted on no more bickering in public and just saying "no" to nearly everything that comes out of the Bush White House. In other words, party discipline: kind of like the Republicans do it. As a result, Democrats now vote together more often than they have since Eisenhower was president. How has someone so clearly not one of the boys managed to keep them in line? Well, one way is money.

She has personally raised more than $100 million, second only to Bill and Hillary Clinton, which she dispenses generously to her colleagues. Another way she rules is through good old fashioned hardball.

Some people says Pelosi is tough as nails.

Says Pelosi, "I'm very strong. I don't know - tough but… ."

"Every time I ask you about it, you retreat into, 'Oh no, I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother,'" Stahl points out, laughing. "You are tough. You have to, I mean, it goes without saying. You got there. You did it."

Pelosi replies: "I heard somebody say the other day when they said, 'You should see how tough she was on a certain subject.' And one of my other colleagues said, 'You have no idea.'"

One thing she does is threaten to deny plum assignments to members who vote with the Republicans. But by keeping her troops in lockstep, her critics say she has worsened the gridlock and partisan bitterness in Congress.

Pelosi took 60 Minutes to the last election strategy session House Democrats held before they went off to campaign.

The mood was buoyant, with credit going to Pelosi for bringing them so close to retaking the House with her strategy of not letting one Republican attack go unanswered.

With just 16 days to the election, Nancy Pelosi - who already made history once when she became minority leader - thinks she's about to do it again.

"You have to understand: breaking the - here we call it the marble ceiling. This makes glass look like nothing. This is a marble ceiling," she says.

And breaking it, she says, would help all women. "I believe if I become Speaker of the house and in that highly visible role show the American people that women know how to use power, that I think it helps all women in the political process or whatever it the field they're in. But I think it will be a plus," Pelosi says.

She has pledged that as Speaker she would give the Republicans rights they've denied the Democrats, like allowing them to introduce amendments to bills. But she may have trouble reining in the Democrats' appetite for revenge. There's already talk of multiple investigations and impeachment of the president.

"No, impeachment is off the table," she says.

"And that's a pledge?" Stahl asks.

"Well, it's a pledge in the - yes, I mean, it's a pledge. Of course it is. It is a waste of time," she replies.

"Wouldn't they just love it, if we came in and our record as Democrats coming forth in 12 years, is to talk about George Bush and Dick Cheney? This election is about them. This is a referendum on them," Pelosi says. "Making them lame ducks is good enough for me."