Nancy Pelosi was born in March 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland, the youngest of six children. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., served as both a U.S. congressman in Maryland and as the mayor of Baltimore.
In 1962 Pelosi graduated from Trinity College in Washington, DC, and then interned for Maryland's Democratic senator Daniel Brewster before moving, with her husband, to San Francisco in 1969.
Following her relocation, Pelosi became increasingly involved in politics. In 1977 she was elected Democratic Party chairwoman for northern California. Around that time, she befriended Phillip Burton, the Democrat congressman representing California’s Eighth District (which includes most of San Francisco). When Burton died in 1983, his wife, Sala, succeeded him in office. Three years later she was diagnosed with cancer and chose Pelosi to be her successor within the party, thereby assuring Pelosi the backing of the Burtons’ political allies.
Mrs. Burton died on February 1, 1987, just a month after she had begun her second full term in office. In a special election to determine who would fill Burton's now-empty House seat, Pelosi narrowly defeated San Francisco supervisor Harry Britt and took office on June 2, 1987. Since then, she has been re-elected every two years.
In 2001 Pelosi became House Minority Whip. The following year, she was named Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives, thereby becoming the first woman in American history to lead a major party in the U.S. Congress. After the landslide Democrat victories in the November 2006 mid-term elections, Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House.
In January 2007, after President Bush had announced his plan to increase troop levels in Iraq in an effort to stem the violence there, Pelosi, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, condemned the plan: "Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain." Instead, Pelosi called for "the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months."
Contrary to Pelosi's prediction, the troop surge proved to be immensely successful. Nonetheless, in February 2008 Pelosi declared the surge a “failure” that had “not produced the desired effect.”
On February 8, 2007, Pelosi appointed Joseph Onek, a senior policy analyst for George Soros's Open Society Institute, to be her senior counsel.
In April 2007 Pelosi traveled to Damascus to discuss foreign policy issues with Syrian President Bashar Assad. She made this trip against the wishes of President Bush, who said that it sent "mixed messages" and undermined U.S. policy vis a vis what he called "a state sponsor of terror." Pelosi's purpose for making the trip was to pressure the Bush administration to open up a direct dialogue with the Syrian government. After her meeting with Assad, the congresswoman told reporters: "We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace."
Former State Department official Robert F. Turner saw Pelosi's Damascus trip as a felonious violation of the Logan Act of 1798, which calls for a prison sentence of up to three years for any American who, "without authority of the United States," tries to influence a foreign government's behavior as regards any "disputes or controversies with the United States."
After her trip to Syria, Pelosi also told reporters: "[Our] meeting with the president [Assad] enabled us to communicate a message from [Israeli] Prime Minister Olmert that Israel was ready to engage in peace talks as well." But in fact, Olmert had conveyed no such sentiment. Israel's position remained what it always had been: its participation in peace talks with Syria was contingent upon the latter ending its support for terrorism.
In July 2008 Pelosi characterized President Bush as “a total failure” who had lost “all credibility with the American people on the war, on the economy, on energy, [and any other issue].”
In April 2009, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a non-partisan government watchdog group, named Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as its 2008 “Porkers of the Year” because of what CAGW viewed as their consistent record of fiscal irresponsibility.
During the Bush administration, Pelosi characterized waterboarding -- an enhanced-interrogation technique which the CIA had used on a handful of high-value terrorist suspects -- as a form of torture that was wholly unacceptable to use under any circumstances. Moreover, she called for punitive action against those in the Bush administration who had deemed waterboarding appropriate. But in May 2009 it was learned that the CIA had actually briefed Pelosi as early as September 2002 about its use of waterboarding, and that Pelosi had never previously raised any objection. Pelosi respond to those reports by accusing the CIA of "misleading the Congress of the United States." "They mislead us all the time," she said.
In December 2009 Pelosi led at least 20 members of Congress (and many of their spouses and children) on an all-expenses-paid trip to attend a global-warming summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. The delegation was so large, that three military jets were required to transport its members. A number of senators and staffers also made the trip, courtesy of taxpayer dollars, via commercial airliners, and many of them stayed at 5-star hotels in Copenhagen. Although Pelosi was personally responsible for deciding who went the summit, she subsequently refused to answer any reporters' questions regarding the cost of the trip.
According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, during 2008-2009 Pelosi incurred expenses of some $2.1 million for her use of Air Force jets for travel -- including $101,429 for in-flight expenses such as food and alcohol. She regularly used Air Force aircraft to travel to her district at an average cost of $28,210.51 per flight. Of 103 Pelosi-led congressional delegations during the two-year period, 31 trips included members of her family.
In January 2010, when Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid were leading the rancorous process by which Democrats were seeking to pass healthcare reform, Pelosi articulated her determination to enact the new legislation: “You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole-vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.”
In March 2010, Pelosi stated that she wished to avoid a House vote on healthcare reform because the legislation would surely be defeated in that chamber. “Nobody wants to vote for the Senate bill,” she said. Thus she supported the so-called "Slaughter solution." Under this plan, the House would vote on a procedural motion, that is, the “rule” that is supposed to govern debate on a matter going before the House. In this case a “self-executing rule” would be used that would “deem” the Senate version of ObamaCare to have been passed. Thus lawmakers would be able to vote to approve the Senate version of the healthcare legislation -- complete with unpopular add-ons such as Senator Ben Nelson’s "Cornhusker Kickback" and Senator Mary Landrieu’s "Louisiana Purchase" -- and then be able to tell their constituents that technically all they had done was approve a procedural motion.
Also in March 2010, Pelosi told the American public that healthcare reform would "be very, very exciting. But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
That same month, Pelosi made reference to the fact that the healthcare bill she was seeking to pass was merely the first phase of a larger effort to bring about ever-greater government control over the American medical system: "My biggest fight has been between those who wanted to do something incremental and those who wanted to do something comprehensive. We won that fight, and once we kick through this door, there'll be more legislation to follow."
Shedding further light on what such additional legislation might entail, Pelosi said: "I have supported -- when I say support, [I mean] signs in the street, advocacy in legislatures -- I have supported single payer [i.e., a healthcare system run entirely by the federal government] for longer than many of you have been -- since you've been born, than you've lived on the face of the earth. So I think, I have always thought, that was the way to go."
In May 2010, Pelosi said the healthcare legislation was "an entrepreneurial bill, a bill that says to someone, if you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations because you will have health care.”
At the Catholic Community Conference on Capitol Hill on May 6, 2010, Pelosi said that she had told Catholic cardinals, archbishops, and bishops to speak about the importance of comprehensive "immigration reform" from their pulpits, and to tell their parishioners that "this is a manifestation of our living the gospels." At the same event, Pelosi suggested that her religious beliefs influenced her public policy decisions on issues such as immigration: "My favorite word is the Word, is the Word.... And ... we have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word.
July 2010, Pelosi stated
that unemployemt insurance “is one of the biggest stimuluses to the
economy.” “Economists will tell you,” she continued, “this
money is spent quickly. It injects demand into the economy and is
job-creating. It creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative
you can name, because again, it is money that is needed for families
to survive, and it is spent. So it has a double benefit. It helps
those who've lost their jobs, but it also is a job creator.” Pelosi would reiterate these themes in December 2011.
In August 2010, Pelosi spoke out in favor of Faisal Abdul Rauf's Cordoba Initiative, a project to build a 13-story, $100 million Islamic Center just 600 feet from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. Criticizing opponents of the project, Pelosi said: "There is no question that there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded [and] ginned up."
On May 3, 2011, after it was announced that U.S. Navy SEALs has located and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Pelosi said the following:
"The death of Osama bin Laden marks the most significant development in our fight against al-Qaeda.... I salute President Obama, his national security team, Director Panetta, our men and women in the intelligence community and military, and other nations who supported this effort for their leadership in achieving this major accomplishment.... [T]he death of Osama bin Laden is historic...."
Those remarks were a stark contrast to what Pelosi had said on September 7, 2006, when she derided President George W. Bush for allegedly having become distracted from the goal of finding bin Laden:
"[E]ven if [Osama bin Laden] is caught tomorrow, it is five years too late. He has done more damage the longer he has been out there. But, in fact, the damage that he has done, is done. And even to capture him now I don’t think makes us any safer."
In October 2011, Pelosi expressed support for the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement which was spreading to numerous cities across the United States. Said Pelosi:
" "God bless them for their spontaneity. It's independent ... it's young, it's spontaneous, and it's focused. And it's going to be effective.... The message of the protesters is a message for the establishment everyplace. No longer will the recklessness of some on Wall Street cause massive joblessness on Main Street."
In May 2012, Pelosi appointed Faiz Shakir, former member of the Harvard Islamic Society and longtime editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, to be her senior advisor and media director.
On May 16, 2012, Pelosi headlined a high-dollar fundraiser that was attended by U.S.-based Islamist groups and individuals affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the donors at the event was Nihad Awad, co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In January 2013, Pelosi appointed Nadaem Elshami, her longtime communications director, to be her chief of staff. Elshami formerly worked for Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and socialist Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Elshami’s Egyptian mother, Zainab Elberry, is a Tennessee-based Muslim activist who lobbied for construction of a mega-mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; supported the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; and helped organize the radical Islamic Center of Nashville.
In a February 10, 2013 television interview, Pelosi said it would be wrong for the federal government to cut funding for such items as education, science, and food safety. She characterized America's budget deficit "isn't so much a spending problem as it is a priorities [problem]" -- i.e., the items on which tax dollars are spent. In the same interview, she said it is "almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem"; rather, she explained, there was "a government deficit problem" -- the implication being that additional tax revenues were needed. The following day, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether President Obama agreed with Pelosi's assertion. Carney replied, "Of course, the president believes that we have a spending problem," adding that the problem was "specifically driven" by health care spending.
In March 2013, Pelosi categorized tax breaks for businesses as forms of "spending" that needed to be cut:
"Tax cuts are spending. Our whole budget is what, $3.5 trillion? So, when we talk about reducing spending, we certainly must, and we certainly have--$1.6 trillion in the previous Congress, $1.2 of it in the Budget Control Act. But spending is subsidies for big oil, subsidies to send jobs overseas, breaks to send jobs overseas, breaks for corporate jets. They are called tax expenditures. Spending money on tax breaks. And that’s the spending that we must curtail as well."
At a June 6, 2013 press conference, Pelosi responded to news reports that, contrary to earlier claims by Barack Obama and Pelosi herself, Obamacare would cause health insurance premiums to rise dramatically for many people purchasing their own insurance in the individual market: "I don't remember saying that everybody in the country would have a lower premium." But in fact, during a on July 1, 2012 appearance on Meet The Press, Pelosi had stated that because of Obamacare "everybody will have lower rates."
At a June 2013 press conference, a Weekly Standard reporter asked Pelosi to clarify her position on abortion in the wake of the recent trial of Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist who was convicted of killing a number of newborn babies after they had survived attempted abortions. “What is the moral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did to a baby born alive at 23 weeks and aborting her moments before birth?” the reporter asked. Pelosi dismissed the question and equated Gosnell’s actions with pro-life activists’ condemnation of abortion. “What was done in Philadelphia was reprehensible and everybody condemned it,” she said. For them to decide to disrespect a judgment a woman makes about her reproductive health is reprehensible. Next question.” When pressed for an answer, Pelosi said: “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this. I don’t think it should have anything to do with politics. And that’s where you’re taking it and I’m not going there.”
In response to Pelosi's comments, Father Frank Pavone, the national director of the pro-life group Priests for Life, wrote Pelosi an open letter saying:
“Public servants are supposed to be able to tell the difference between serving the public and killing the public. Apparently, you can’t. Otherwise, you would have been able to explain the difference between a legal medical procedure that kills a baby inside the womb and an act of murder.... Abortion is not sacred ground; it is sacrilegious ground. To imagine God giving the slightest approval to an act that dismembers a child he created is offensive to both faith and reason. And to say that a question about the difference between a legal medical procedure and murder should not ‘have anything to do with politics’ reveals a profound failure to understand your own political responsibilities, which start with the duty to secure the God-given right to life of every citizen. Whatever Catholic faith you claim to respect and practice, it is not the faith that the Catholic Church teaches. And I speak for countless Catholics when I say that it’s time for you to stop speaking as if it were.”
Also in 2013, Pelosi was one of 28 California congressional representatives (all Democrats) who supported the Trust Act, state legislation designed to make it more difficult
to deport immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally. The 28 Democrats sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown urging him to sign the bill if it reached his desk.
On September 3, 2013, Pelosi discussed the reasons why a U.S. military attack on Syria, where more than 100,000 people had already been killed during a 30-month civil war that continued to rage, was now justified by the fact that the Syrian regime had apparently used chemical weapons to kill some 1,400 people (including perhaps 400 children) on August 21. Pelosi told reporters:
"My five-year-old grandson, as I was leaving San Francisco yesterday, he said to me, Mimi, my name, Mimi: War with Syria. Are you yes war with Syria, [or] no war with Syria. Now he's five years old. And war, he's saying war. I mean, we're not talking about war; we're talking about an action. Yes war with Syria, no with war in Syria? I said, 'Well, what do you think?' He said, 'I think no war.' I said, 'Well, I generally agree with that, but you know, they have killed hundreds of children, they've killed hundreds of children.' And he said, five years old, 'Were these children in the United States?' And I said, 'No, but they're children wherever they are.'
"So I don't know what news he's listening to or -- but even a five year old child has to -- you know, with the wisdom of our interest, how does it affect our interest. Well, it affects our interests because, again, it was outside of the circle of civilized behavior. It was, humanity drew a line decades ago that i think if we ignore, we do so to the peril of many other people who could suffer."
In a September 22, 2013 interview with CNN, Pelosi stated that Republican-led efforts to rein in government spending were pointless because there was nothing left to cut in the $3.8 trillion federal budget. "The cupboard is bare," she said. "There’s no more cuts to make. It’s really important that people understand that. We cannot have cuts just for the sake of cuts."
In November 2013 -- amid immense public outrage over the fact that Obamacare regulations were, contrary to the repeated assurances of President Obama and the Democrats, forcing insurers to cancel the existing healthcare plans of millions of Americans -- Pelosi was asked whether she owed an apology to the formerly insured who had been misled. She replied, “Did I ever tell my constituents that if they liked their plan they could keep it? I would have if I’d ever met anybody who liked his or her plan. But that was not my experience.”
Pelosi, whose family has a net worth of more than $25 million, is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. According to her 2011 financial disclosure statement, Pelosi received between $1 million and $5 million in partnership income from Matthews International Capital Management LLC, a group that touts its “singular focus on investing in Asia.”
Pelosi is a member of the socialist-leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus, to whose executive committee she was named in 2002. For an overview of Pelosi’s policy positions and voting record on key pieces of legislation during her years in the House of Representatives, click here.