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Nancy Pelosi stands to make life much tougher for President Bush if the November 7 elections net her a powerful job that puts her just two steps behind him.
The 66-year-old California liberal stands to become the first woman to lead the House of Representatives if she and fellow Democrats win control of the chamber from Bush’s Republicans.
She vows to ensure Congress acts as an equal to the most powerful man in the world.
Often ignored or even mocked by Bush during his six years as president, Pelosi, now the House Democratic minority leader, told Reuters in an interview: “If we are in charge, he’ll have to listen.”
As speaker of the House, the chamber’s top job, Pelosi would be second in succession to the presidency after the vice president under U.S. law. She is a shoo-in for the job if Democrats prevail.
“The only way to deal with Bush is as a co-equal branch of government,” she said. “The Republican Congress has been a rubber stamp for his failed policies” on such basics as fiscal and national security.
She has vowed to clean up the way Congress does business in the wake of a wave of influence-peddling scandals.
Just hours after Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned last month following disclosure he made sexual advances to male teenage interns, Pelosi called for an investigation.
Describing herself as “a mother and a grandmother,” Pelosi drew boos from Republicans, who nevertheless sent her proposal to the House Ethics committee for consideration. A week later the panel began a probe.
“Maybe it will take a woman to clean up the House, and a new speaker to restore civility,” Pelosi said.
Already the only woman ever to lead a political party in Congress, Pelosi would become the first woman speaker in the chamber’s 217 years. She is thrilled at the prospect.
“But I don’t spend two seconds of thought on, ‘I’m going to be the speaker.’ I’m focused on what it’s going to take to win as many House seats as possible. What’s important is that Democrats prevail,” Pelosi said between cross-country campaign stops on behalf of Democratic candidates.
‘HE IS IN DENIAL’
If Democrats take the House, they vow to confront Bush during his final two years in office on such matters as the rising cost of health care and a college education as well as the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.
“He is in denial,” said Pelosi, who along with other top Democrats favors a phased withdrawal of U.S troops from Iraq.
Pelosi first learned politics as a child a half century ago from her big-city mayor father in Baltimore where she was taught how to help constituents who knocked at their door.
She first ran for Congress in 1987 from her adopted hometown of San Francisco where she raised five children with her husband and served as state party chairwoman.
Republicans portray Pelosi as an out-of-control liberal who would increase taxes, roll back the war on terror and oppose conservative efforts to ban gay marriage, flag burning and abortion.
“We have been able to use her as a poster child — the liberal from San Francisco — and that picture works well in Middle America,” said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign committee.
Ethan Siegal of the Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress for institutional investors, said, “Nobody really knows how she would fare as House speaker.”
As minority leader, Pelosi effectively kept House Democrats united against a number of Republican initiatives in the past year or so, Siegal said.
“But she’d have her hands full as speaker,” Siegal said. Pelosi would probably have a slim Democratic majority and would have to maintain the support of conservative Democrats.
Bush took a swipe at Pelosi at a White House news conference. He quoted her as saying, “I love tax cuts” while nonetheless voting against many of them.
Pelosi fired back: “Democrats have long fought for middle-income tax cuts. This is in stark contrast to the Republican tax breaks for the super rich that have led to a budget that is grossly out of balance and a national debt that is morally indefensible.”
Democrats have dubbed their campaign agenda “A new direction for America.” It includes raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade, ending tax giveaways to big oil companies and implementing stalled proposals by the 9/11 commission to secure ports and borders.
Pelosi said Democrats would not try to force Bush from office. But she said they would hold oversight hearings on such matters as whether he manipulated the facts to build early support for the Iraq war.