House Democrats on Thursday made California representative Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco the first woman ever to head a political party's caucus in Congress. Democrats settled on the 62-year-old pro-gay liberal to succeed Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who ended his eight years as minority party leader after an election in which Republicans cemented their control over the House and won back the majority in the Senate.
In choosing Pelosi on a 177-29 vote, Democrats have tasked the veteran congresswoman with reviving a party stunned by election setbacks and facing a political landscape in which the White House and both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans.
Pelosi is a strong supporter of gay rights, telling The Washington Post Thursday that she questions the message Republicans are sending when they harp on where she comes from. "When people say 'San Francisco liberal,' are they talking about protecting the environment, educating the American children, building economic success?" she asked rhetorically. "No, they are talking about gay people. Well, I was brought up to believe that all people are God's children. And the last time I checked, that included gay people."
As flowers and congratulatory notes began to fill her spacious Capitol office, Pelosi told the San Francisco Chronicle that those who try to tag her with a simplistic political label misunderstand her pragmatic nature and the tactical role of minority leader. "To be a leader is not to say that everyone in the country--or the Congress--must vote along with you and your district," she said. She added that she will push the Democratic Party to develop an economic growth plan to distinguish itself from the GOP and will draw up a political road map to win back the majority as early as 2004.