Exclusive: Pelosi Defends Health Care Fight Tactics

House speaker says when there's no common ground, you must stand your ground.

March 22, 2010, 4:38 PM

March 22, 2010— -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a muted victory lap today after the historic House vote on health care reform, but didn't dispute a description of her clout in helping win passage of the bill.

"Most powerful woman in American history?" "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer asked Pelosi today, citing an article in The Economist.

Pelosi, maintaining the smiling poker player's mask that is her trademark, paused for a moment before saying brightly, "That sounds good. I don't, I don't take it personally, except I take it as a compliment for all women."

But the California Democrat rejected the description by a fellow congresswoman who said it was Pelosi who put the "steel" in President Obama's determination to keeping pushing for a sweeping reform bill rather than a scaled down measure.

"That's ridiculous," Pelosi said during the exclusive interview with Sawyer.

"Many presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have tried to pass health care reform for Americans. And many speakers of the House have tried to do it, as well," she said. "And last night, we had that level of success."

Watch live coverage of President Obama signing the health care bill into law at 11:15 a.m. ET on ABCNews.com or your local ABC station.

Recounting a congratulatory phone call she had with Obama Sunday night after the 219-212 vote, she said, "I told him that I was certain that it would not have happened without his vision."

Pelosi said the passage of the bill put the current Congress in an elite group of achievers.

"We are here now to be... along with the Congresses that enacted Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, health care for all Americans, all of that on a par," she said.

The speaker defended her tactic of passing the bill despite unanimous Republican opposition. Her forceful handling of the bill was derided by Republicans as "Nancy Pelosi's one-party rule," and House Minority Leader John Boehner said on the floor of the House, "Shame on you. Shame."

"Well, you know, some people will do anything for the insurance companies," Pelosi said of Boehner in an echo of the bitter fight over the health care bill.

"You strive for bipartisanship when you can. When you find your common ground, that's great. If you don't find your common ground, you have to stand your ground," she said. "And in addition to that, you want bipartisanship, but you cannot let the lack of bipartisanship stand in the way of making this change that is important to the American people."

Pelosi Claims GOP Also Tried to Defeat Medicare

Pelosi disputed the description that Obama's failure to win bipartisan support for the bill was in contrast to the joint Democratic and Republican support that passed Medicare.

Pelosi said the key vote wasn't on the passage of Medicare, but an earlier vote on a motion that she said would have "gutted" the Medicare bill. When the Republicans lost that vote, they knew that the battle was lost and voted with the Democrats, she claimed.

"The same people who opposed Medicare opposed this," she said.

Obama is scheduled to sign the bill into law Tuesday, but Republicans have already vowed to renew the fight against it.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced bills today to repeal the health care bill. And 12 state attorneys general, all of whom are Republican, have already filed suits to block the bill on the grounds that its requirement that everyone have health insurance is unconstitutional.

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