In praise of Nancy Pelosi.

That review of Republican motivations and commitments comes not courtesy of a partisan blog but from Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House.


The congressional break comes at a moment when one cliche about Pelosi should be disposed of for good, that a San Francisco liberal was imposing her agenda on our pragmatic new president.

Republicans seem to have realized that this argument wasn't working, so they have taken to criticizing President Obama directly. Recent polls suggest this strategy isn't helping the GOP much, either.

She also faces a Republican Party much more conservative and Southern than it used to be. It's easy to forget how dramatic the shift has been over time--and therefore easy to miss how much of the current nostalgia for bipartisanship is unrealistic.

In the current Congress, 72 of the 178 Republicans come from the Old Confederacy. Almost all of them are deeply conservative. There is not a single Republican House member from New England, and only three from New York.

Pelosi wants to protect those 49, and the best evidence for how she is executing her balancing act came in the House budget resolution that left open the possibility that health care reform, but not a cap-and-trade plan on carbon emissions, would pass under "reconciliation" rules.


Why the different treatment of the two issues? "The priority, of course, is to pass health care," Pelosi said without blinking. She still hopes it will pass with an expansive bipartisan majority, but added: "We cannot abandon the effort if we don't have 60 votes."


"There are enough Democrats who are for health care reform," she said. "You don't know where those Democratic votes are on cap-and-trade." Her view is that unless both houses can forge a broad compromise that will get at least 60 votes in the Senate, the whole effort will die anyway.

During the interview last week, Pelosi called attention to a small statue of a coal miner that she has always kept in her office. It was a gift to her father from the late Jennings Randolph, who represented West Virginia in the House and Senate.

Those are not the words of an ideologue. In fact, that's the one thing Nancy Pelosi isn't.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. is the author of the recently published Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right. He is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University.

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.