In It to Win It

Nancy Pelosi’s Brass Knuckles

Lloyd Grove on how the ex-speaker is bracing for this year.

Ken Cedeno / Corbis

Maybe Nancy Pelosi really believes she’ll once again be speaker of the House next year.

“We’re going to go mano-a-mano,” the 72-year-old House minority leader promised Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., site of the Democratic National Convention, where she predicted that the Dems will pick up 27 seats in November—two more than necessary to regain the majority. “We’re not yielding one grain of sand. I never go into a fight predicated on losing. It’s always about winning.”

Pelosi—who served four years as speaker until the Republicans won 63 seats in the wave election of 2010—was unusually chatty and expansive at Politico’s Playbook Breakfast. She reminisced about her first experience with politics (at the 1952 Democratic convention where, as the daughter of Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., she had a stuffed donkey named Adlai), gossiped about the abrupt conversational style of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, dissed Washington Post sleuth Bob Woodward, and vowed to strive in coming months to hike income and estate taxes on plutocrats and corporations.

And she boldly raised expectations for the Democrats’ political fortunes, claiming that a 27-seat pickup is “a worst-case scenario” in a year when President Obama, she said, will also win reelection.

“In my opinion, Steve Israel is the best,” Pelosi said, referring to New York’s 2nd District representative, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “He’s driven by policy, which makes him very firm in politics … I said to him, ‘Understand, when you take this job, this is for the cold-blooded’ … But Steve has sufficient reptilian tendencies to do the job.” She meant that as a compliment.

Concerning an anecdote in The Price of Politics, Bob Woodward’s new book about the backstage maneuverings surrounding Obama’s attempts to fix the recession, Pelosi denied that she ever pressed the mute button during a phone call with the president.

“That didn’t happen,” she said, insisting that she considers any phone call between the president and the speaker of the House “formal” and “historic,” adding that “mostly I clear the room and I take notes.”

Pelosi confided that her counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Reid, has little patience for jawboning. “When he’s finished, it’s over,” she said. “He stops listening long before you stop talking.”

Pelosi said that given the threat of “going over the fiscal cliff,” it’s inevitable that Congress will let the Bush tax cuts expire in 2013 and “revise the tax code for simplification and fairness” and “subject every [tax break] provision to the harshest scrutiny. Why is it there? Is it there because they had the strongest lobbyist in town?”

She added that given the free-spending behavior of Congressional Republicans during George W. Bush’s presidency, “it’s curious—because all of the sudden we’re surrounded by fiscal hawks, which was an extinct species when Bush was president.”

Pelosi, one of Congress’s top fundraisers, collected $6.8 million in the past month (compared to $4 million raised by Republican Speaker John Boehner), but blasted the billionaire Koch brothers and other rich Republican super-PAC funders for spending hundreds of millions in order to reap billions in tax breaks.

“It’s very transactional,” she said. “Very wrong.”