The World According to Nancy Pelosi

An exclusive interview.

BY Andrew Harmon

January 12 2012 4:00 AM ET

NANCY PELOSI COLOR X560 (TIM COBURN) | ADVOCATE.COMRegardless of what happens, two things are certain for the House: Neither Barney Frank nor lesbian representative Tammy Baldwin, who is running for retiring Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl's seat, will be with Pelosi in the next session – and both departures clearly weigh on her. Congressman Frank sees future speakership promise in Democratic members such as Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the current chair of the Democratic National Committee. But in the short term, he's firm: "Nancy should be speaker," he says.

The two have a political relationship based on mutual respect–supplemented with idiosyncratic communication. "My first call to him – this was about 24 years ago – when he said I was taking up his time, I learned to just say, 'Barney: Subject... Problem... Timing... Action needed...,'" Pelosi says. "And I find, to tell you the truth, that in talking to him that way, I wish people would talk to me that way." Pelosi seems wistful about his retirement.

"The IQ will go down here, as will the humor factor," she says. "This is a man who brought such values and commitment to a progressive agenda in the Congress, and whether you agreed with him when he spoke or not, everyone listened to him and learned."

Frank and others, in turn, seem eager to remind historians of Pelosi's role in recent LGBT victories as well as her political prowess to help secure funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs. Chris Collins, director of public policy for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, and a former Pelosi staffer, calls her "the greatest AIDS advocate I've ever known in my life."

During a pivotal week for “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal in December 2010, when some pundits had all but declared the effort to be dead on arrival, senators Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut removed the DADT repeal from the defense authorization bill and set it up as a stand-alone measure to improve its chance of passing. Senate leadership asked Pelosi to pass and send them both bills in concert. But Frank had his concerns, he says. Likening the situation to a Cold War–style U.S.-Russian spy swap situation, he had little faith in some Senate Republicans, who he feared could jeopardize what gay advocates had been fighting for, and did not want to send the Senate the defense bill until senators passed the DADT repeal.

Frank called Pelosi two days before the eventual House vote and asked that she stand her ground. "Then Nancy gets on the phone with Harry Reid and said, 'Harry, I won't send you the military bill until you've done 'don't ask, don't tell.' A few minutes later he calls up and says, "All right, Nancy, I just filed the cloture petition on 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Frank says. "We knew then that we were OK." A few days later, at a press conference following the vote, Mike Almy, an Air Force major discharged under DADT in 2006, was invited to introduce Pelosi. "She held both of my hands and said, 'I'm so sorry about what happened to you,'" Almy says. "It was just so motherly. After the press conference we just walked out arm in arm."

In public, Pelosi is usually in lockstep with the president, but, true to form, she declines to discuss what conversations she may have had with Obama on same-sex marriage. But she's pushing the DNC to help fund the fight against anti-marriage equality ballot measures in Minnesota and North Carolina as well as a campaign in Maine that aims to overturn a 2009 ballot measure that rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state. "There are more ways to get your voice heard than just speaking.... But I hope the president would just say he supports equality in marriage," she says.

Should that day become a reality, Pelosi is delighted when asked if she’d ever perform a same-sex wedding. It may be becoming increasingly de rigueur for some pols who enjoy support from LGBT constituents, including New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who presided over the July wedding of his chief policy adviser, John Feinblatt, to Jonathan Mintz. Pelosi had called Bloomberg to congratulate him the following Monday, as Feinblatt’s father once served as attorney for Pelosi’s father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., the Democratic mayor of Baltimore from 1947 to 1959.

“I’m not a big officiator, though,” Pelosi says, and follows with a mischievous laugh. “I did it one time, and the people I married are divorced now. So I don’t think I’ll be called on again. I think that was probably it.”

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