Transcript: Speaker Nancy Pelosi Speaks to ABC's Diane Sawyer

In wide ranging post-election interview, Pelosi says she has "no regrets."

ByABC News
November 3, 2010, 7:22 PM

Nov. 3, 2010— -- The day after an historic election that will return the House of Representatives to Republican control, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with ABC's Diane Sawyer about the results. Here is a transcipt of their conversation, which has been edited for clarity:

DIANE SAWYER: Madame Speaker, you woke up. What kind of day is it?

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: Well, what kind of day have you been having? How is your day? It's been a day that is, of course, respectful of the will of the American people. For those of us who are engaged in government, in politics, know who's boss, and that is, that is the American people. And so, we hear a message from them.

It's also a day where, though, we're sad about some of the losses of members of great seniority and distinction in the Congress, and some very new members, who will no longer be serving with us. But I know they'll continue to contribute to society, it's just lost to the Congress.

DIANE SAWYER: What is it to look up and see name after name after name going by, people who stood up, who stood up and voted in the crunch, and see their political lives over for the moment? What do you say to them on the phone?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, what they had said to me on the phone is they are very proud of what they have done. They know, for example, in passing health care, and Wall Street reform and other initiatives, that they've done what is right for the American people. Special pride in the health care bill, because it's so historic.

And one of them said it more, most eloquently, but similar sentiment expressed by others. He said, "If I have to go into another line of work because I have voted to give this opportunity for health care for Americans, so be it. I'm proud of what I have done."

DIANE SAWYER: The President used the word shellacking in the press conference. What's the first word that comes to your mind?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I guess that's, that probably is a good word. But I, I would say a very disappointing result. And not being as colorful as he is in that description. But it, it was, it was a tough loss. Especially since so many of the races were so very close, within the margin of differences, it was just a very few. And that's why we thought there was still an opportunity to win.

DIANE SAWYER: Truly surprised you?

NANCY PELOSI: The size? Yes. Yeah, I mean, it-- no, it didn't surprise me that it was possible. I was hopeful that, that some of the very close races would fall our way. Some did, not enough. Maybe about 20 races-- 20 to 25 races-- fell the other way. Fifteen or 20 of them fell our way, but that wasn't enough.

DIANE SAWYER: What did the President say to you and you to him?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't usually discuss my conversations with the President, but you can just imagine that it was a call in which I had spoken to him twice yesterday, earlier in the day, and then in the evening. And, and we expressed pride in the work that we had done, sadness over the loss of the members who would not be returning. But again, no regrets about the health care for all Americans, consumer protections of an historic nature, Wall Street reform, the list goes on-- as to the agenda that we've put forth.

Progress wasn't fast enough. And that's really what the challenge is. Now we look forward to working with the Republicans. They say they have some ideas on job creation. We had hoped they would've suggested them before. They just said no. Now, we look forward to, we know just say no doesn't work. We, we want to hear what they have to say.

DIANE SAWYER: What are you going to do next?

NANCY PELOSI: That is-- what I'm talking to-- well, first of all, today, I'm talking to my members-- who courageously fought the fight, carried the banner, took the tough votes, and-- made the decision-- for the American people, to fight for the middle class. That's what I'm doing today. When I-- when I'm towards the end of doing that, I'll start thinking about what I do next. But it's never been about me. It's about how our caucus goes forward to fight, continue our fight for the middle class.

DIANE SAWYER: Are the odds you'll stay?

NANCY PELOSI: I'm-- I'm-- as I said to you, we-- in our caucus, we always do things by consensus. And when we have that consensus, we'll have some announcement to make.

DIANE SAWYER: And do you feel you would have the support to be minority leader?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I-- as I said, when we-- I don't want to speak for my caucus at this time. But I-- when we make that decision together then we'll have an announcement about it.

DIANE SAWYER: Have you talked to your family about it?

NANCY PELOSI: Again-- understand, this result is not 24 hours old. And I-- always believe that there was a way that we could win if some of these very close races fell our way. And they were falling our way. $100 million approximately of outside money weighed in in those races, and changed the atmosphere in the last couple of weeks. That's all to say we weren't anticipating losing. We knew it was a possibility, but I never discussed that possibility with my family.

So, we didn't discuss what it would mean to me. We-- we were mostly interested obviously in what it would mean to the American people. And that's what's important. To stay focused on that. Whatever our decisions-- that any of us have to be on what's in the best interest of the American people. People talk about communication, the best communication for somebody who has-- who has economic uncertainty is a job. And that's what our focus has to be now. Jobs. More job creation faster.

DIANE SAWYER: Everyone-- everyone assumes that the crucible moment that you look and you say, "Here is the lesson I learned." What would you have done differently? What should you have done differently?

NANCY PELOSI: Well as-- there's nothing I could do about 9.5 percent unemployment. Some people say, well you should've made sure everybody knew that this was a result of the Bush administration. And we were moving to change that. It didn't come fast enough.

I really don't like to look back so much. This is about looking forward. And we feel very confident about the decisions that we made, that are in the interest of reducing the deficit, creating jobs, enabling American people to reach their fulfillment with the liberation they get from having health care, the consumer protections that they have. That their health security, about their economic securities, about their personal security. And we believe we've made the right decisions in that regard. Should we have been talking about it more, and working on it less, that-- that's a question. I believe we came here to get a job done. And that's what we did.

DIANE SAWYER: No regrets?

NANCY PELOSI: No regrets. Because we believe we did the right thing, and we worked very hard in our campaigns to convey that to the American people. Nine and a half percent unemployment is a very eclipsing event. If people don't have a job, they're not too interested in how you intend for them to have a job. They want to see results.

DIANE SAWYER: I know that you have said over the years that you're strong, that you were trained to have a thick skin, that you're in the arena, and that you have to learn to be the target, and almost like it you said to me last time. Almost.

NANCY PELOSI: Almost like.


NANCY PELOSI: Well, I like it for the money it helps you raise, but--

DIANE SAWYER: But nonetheless, you had buses out there, fire Pelosi. You had the Tea Party saying today our big victory was we fired Nancy Pelosi.

NANCY PELOSI: They-- I think-- that's interesting, but the fact is, it's not about me. It's about what is going to happen in terms of job creation for the middle class. I believe that we established a great foundation. The President did. Established pillars of job creation, through clean energy jobs for the future, health care first among equal to create over a million jobs. Those-- and higher education. Those kinds of initiatives.

Now, it remains to the Republicans and Democrats to work together to build on that, and go forward. It is-- they have used me as a personification of health care and the rest. I take that as a compliment, however, it's not about that. Because what, they can say what they want about me. The fact is, the American people still need jobs. We still need to act on their behalf. Our commitment to them doesn't go away, nor do the challenges we face.

DIANE SAWYER: What do you feel making those calls?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, it's-- it's-- it's encouraging in some ways, because the members, as sad as we are about losing their service and their leadership here-- are-- very positive in saying-- that they are proud of-- of-- of the votes they took, the job that they did here, how they helped create this-- health security, and move us toward greater economic security-- for the American people. So they're very-- they're positive. Of course, they wanted to win. Of course, they wanted to be here. But would they trade being here for a vote for health care for all Americans. No.

DIANE SAWYER: And the talk about repealing health care?


DIANE SAWYER: Let's talk about-- taking it apart bit by bit so that it's unrecognizable is the word they-- they used.

NANCY PELOSI: Well, that would be most unfortunate. But let me just remind that when Medicare was passed, and the Civil Rights Act was passed in the middle '60s at the same time, the Democrats lost-- nearly 50 votes at that time. Because change-- has a-- place in terms of public understanding of it at the time. The American people have great wisdom. There is a give and take in politics, an ebb and flow, and how we deal with that is the obligation that we have to them to find common ground.

So, I-- I don't-- I don't-- think they're going to take health care apart. There are certain parts of it that we all may want to review-- one way or another. Put it up there. But the fundamentals of it, you know, when we have our patients' bill of rights about no preexisting conditions, and those provisions, they are-- they cannot be there unless you have this basic structure of health care reform.

So, when we have this debate piece by piece, I think the American people will see how they like pieces of it, and how they relate to each other. And that some of that-- you know, a 1099, it was a Senate provision. We didn't like it in the House. The President mentioned it today. We've already passed on the floor-- the repeal of 1099 in the House of Representatives. So, you know, there are certain pieces of it that should always be subjected to review.

DIANE SAWYER: Some members of Congress and some members of your team have indicated that the White House had no comprehensive plan to communicate what was in the bill. Did the White House let you down?

NANCY PELOSI: No. No. I'm very proud of the President's leadership role. All of the things that we have accomplished would not have been possible without his vision and his leadership. And-- and it's-- we were doing the work. Maybe we should've been talking about it more. But again, the only message-- that is eloquent-- to someone that's out of work is the message of a job. And that's what we continue to work for, and we will continue to work for. And welcome-- I congratulate-- John Boehner. I assume that he will be the Speaker. That's what I hear. And-- look forward to-- seeing what ideas they will put forward with job creation. We've invited them before. They've said no. Now it's their turn to initiate. We look forward to giving them cooperation to create jobs.

DIANE SAWYER: Let's just talk of compromise. At the time, you felt you had to deliver that health care bill, even with no Republican votes. What's changed?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, that's what-- we-- didn't mean there wasn't compromise in the bill. I myself was for a public option. I had many things in the bill that I was personally committed to for-- for decades-- that didn't make the cut. And-- that bill itself was a compromise. You'd never know that about-- how it was misrepresented.

It-- in fact, went through three committees in the House, two in the Senate. Five committees of jurisdiction with bipartisan participation, hundreds of Republican amendments considered, some accepted, some moderated. So, this idea that it had no imprint from the Republicans isn't so. We just didn't have any Republican votes because they wanted to hold it up.

DIANE SAWYER: What's the best thing about John Boehner?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I hope that-- John Boehner will be-- the-- the Speaker in a way that he leads. I hope that he's not-- held back by the flow of ship. We always say around here-- you have a-- convoy theory. That the whole-- Congress will go as slow as the slowest ship.

Well, the American people who are waiting for jobs can't wait-- can't have that convoy theory. They need something that-- that takes us forward in a way that, again, gives confidence to the American people. We believe that the fundamentals are in place, that job creation didn't come soon enough, but it is on the way if we can accelerate that. Now, why I think-- it will have a good chance is that-- many of our-- solutions have been market-oriented, have been private sector initiatives, that have had the support of the Republicans in the past. And so, hopefully-- again, we can find common ground based on-- public incentive, but a private role.

Now, John Boehner is a very amiable person. He has many friends in the Congress, and hopefully, he can continue-- he will continue to have those relationships as he goes forward, and that his-- his conference will allow him to do that.

DIANE SAWYER: It's a high school question, but do you like him?

NANCY PELOSI: Of course. Yes. We've had a good rapport. As I did with President Bush. You know, I-- I'm always very respectful of my colleagues. And the people they represent, and the fact that he has been the Democratic [sic] leader.

DIANE SAWYER: Looking to what happened last night, will President Obama win in 2012?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, it-- I-- looking at what happened last night, what we heard and saw last night is-- let's understand the message. The message was not, "I reject the course that you are on." The message is it didn't go fast enough to produce jobs. So, I would hope that as we go forward, the job numbers will improve, and that will be good-- not only for the President, but for all members of Congress. But again, it will rely on job creation.

DIANE SAWYER: Will-- will--

NANCY PELOSI: I believe that Barack Obama will serve-- serve eight years as President of the United States. I believe that the investments that he's made-- some of them are longer term, because he thinks in a statesman-like way, and that's why they didn't get the full impact now. I believe that he will-- also-- demonstrate to the American people, and he has, that what we had to do in the short term is because we had an emergency situation from the previous administration that had to be dealt with.

Some people interpreted that as too activist. But it was emergency, and it saved us from a depression. And-- or a deeper recession. And I-- I believe that he, as a, has extended the bipartisan hand of friendship so many times to the Republicans. Hopefully now they will accept that.

DIANE SAWYER: Democrats be back in 2012?

NANCY PELOSI: We're always ready to come back. But let's say this. Let's just do what is right for the American people. And as those of us who are involved in politics and in government know that our responsibility is to the American people. That we have a responsibility to find our common ground, to seek it and to find it.

If we can't, we have to-- vote in a way that we believe-- but we also have to try to find-- common-- more areas where we have common beliefs. And-- I-- I have-- I thought this after, the day after the election, that we want to congratulate the winners, offer a hand of friendship to work together. But-- the next election-- is-- seems a long time away to us right now, but-- we don't have any intention of preparing to lose it.

But again, what-- the only reason to be here, the only reason to run for office is to get the job done for the American people. I would hope that elections wouldn't have to be so urgent, where there would be such a big distinction. And-- and if we can work together, then we'll see what the enthusiasm is for making change.

DIANE SAWYER: Last time we talked, I asked about your dad. It was after health care. And I think I thought I was going to get a sentimental answer. And I asked what he would be saying to you after that. And you said, he would probably be saying, you sure you have the votes?

NANCY PELOSI: (LAUGHS) That's right. For that. Maybe the next thing he would say is-- that-- I-- I heard what he and my mother were saying to us about our responsibilities-- to each other. I think he would say-- always have confidence in the American people. While in the short run this may not have-- the appeal-- that you want it to, the American people are very wise.

DIANE SAWYER: And truly, none of this is personally wounding to you?

NANCY PELOSI: You know, I've never had a-- shall we say, a personal commitment-- to whatever the job is.

DIANE SAWYER: But you're human. And things penetrate the skin. And you hear what they're saying. And you hear what they said in the results last night.

NANCY PELOSI: Well-- what's more important than that, you know, it's always a question of what you-- yes, but would you put that ahead of getting the job done for the American people so people-- so you're not as controversial a figure, or been made to personalize health care or-- or-- consumer protections and the rest. They don't say it that way.

But-- no. So, that-- that's less important to me. It's less important to me what they say about me than my colleagues not coming back, bringing their-- in some cases, long-term experience, and in other cases, new invigoration to the Congress. So-- it-- that is so much more important to me. I don't know. And maybe it's a-- level of-- being a woman, and having a sort of a-- commitment to what you have to do-- an understanding that you're not what is important in it. What's important in it is getting the job done, not keeping the job.

And I feel very at peace at-- with how things have proceeded. I would like to have won the election, don't get me wrong on that score. But the fact is-- we have advanced the ball down the field for health security, for consumer protections. We're leveling the playing field in terms of leverage for working families, vis-à-vis-- special interests in our country. We're proud of what we have done.

DIANE SAWYER: You left a message for John Boehner?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I called him this morning. They told me what time to call him at, and I-- when he called-- he was then on his way to a funeral. So, he had a sadness to accompany all this joy today. But-- we're friends, and he knows that I wish him well personally. And for the American people, I wish him well in his work as well.

DIANE SAWYER: You have-- I'm going to get my count wrong-- five grandchildren?

NANCY PELOSI: Oh, no, no. Many more.

DIANE SAWYER: (LAUGHS) Many more. Okay. I thought I was going to get my count wrong.

NANCY PELOSI: Yeah, I love my grandchildren. And-- you know, again, as I have to make a decision about what I do next, it certainly weighs in on how-- my-- my real accomplishment in life is being a mom and a grandmother. And--

DIANE SAWYER: Seven grandchildren, we're--

NANCY PELOSI: More. Eight. Eight grandchildren and one step-grandchild.

DIANE SAWYER: All right.


DIANE SAWYER: How does it weigh in? How does it factor into your decision?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, you know-- it is-- I keep thinking they're going to be able to do all these things with me. And-- they like the idea that I can do things-- for the American people, especially for children. And they always tell me about poor children, and-- and why is it that way? So-- so, we'll have our communica-- our conversation. I-- I'll have a conversation with my caucus, I'll have a conversation with my family, and-- pray over it, and decide how-- to go forward. But today isn't that day. Today is the day to congratulate John Boehner and the Republicans, to speak and listen to my colleagues who are not coming back. To again-- respect the wishes of the American people.

DIANE SAWYER: And what do you say to children and grandchildren about defeat?

NANCY PELOSI: It's part of the game. It's part of the game. You can't get too vested in that you don't understand that one possibility is to win, and sometimes you do. And one possibility is to lose. But what is important is that-- and I say this to my candidates-- the public will decide whether you win or lose the election. But you will decide whether you win the campaign. And how you stick to your values, how you-- present-- the dignity that has drawn you to-- and the values that have drawn you to public service to begin with. And I believe-- that-- that our candidates have won the campaign in terms of who they are, and their commitment to the American people. They may not have won this election.

DIANE SAWYER: The President said he was sad. It was sad. And for you, sad, bruising?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, it's sad in terms of my colleagues who won't be coming back. For me, I'm a professional.

DIANE SAWYER: Never felt it?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, I felt it for my colleagues, I felt it for the American people. Because I do believe that there's a distinction. There was a distinction-- and a clear choice in this election about taking the American people forward, fighting for the middle class, preserving social security, not privatizing it, making it in America, not shipping jobs overseas and getting a tax break for doing so. So, I believe that there was a lot at stake.

DIANE SAWYER: We all have to talk to ourselves in moments when it feels bruised.

NANCY PELOSI: Well, let me tell you, when I get time for that, I'll call you. And I'll let you know how it feels. Because first of all, I haven't had a moment alone to even think about myself. And-- second of all-- it's a luxury at this time that I can't afford. But it is-- it-- it-- one thing I don't want it to do-- it's just really unprecedented, tens of millions of dollars spent against me -- is I don't want it to deter women from going into politics. Even the Republicans have said this might not have happened if the Speaker were a man. But I don't want it to deter women.

DIANE SAWYER: You really believe that?

NANCY PELOSI: I don't necessarily believe it. I think that I was successful. We passed health care reform, we passed consumer protection. We have-- are making college more affordable. We passed Wall Street reform. That's why I was the target. And I think that-- that any successful Speaker would be a target in that way.

But I don't want women to say, "There's no way I'm putting up with that." I have plenty of good options in my life, and after all, Congress is a place for people with options. And they-- I want them to say-- whatever it is, it's worth the results for the American people. If you have that commitment, and that conviction, and that-- it takes courage. It's not for the faint of heart. Then-- that really is important. If there's any example I would want to set is-- believe in what you're doing, and if you do, the rest of it doesn't matter.

DIANE SAWYER: You've talked about the marble ceiling. And I'd like to just show you a moment, well, a few years ago. A moment that was singular in American history.

VIDEOTAPE OF PRESIDENT BUSH in 2007: Tonight I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words, Madame Speaker. (APPLAUSE)

NANCY PELOSI: That was nice of him to do.

BUSH VOICEOVER: In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. from Baltimore, Maryland saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter Nancy presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Congratulations, Madame Speaker.

NANCY PELOSI: That was so nice of him. That was so lovely. That was a surprise. That was so lovely. That he did it, was such, the way he is.

DIANE SAWYER: All across on the aisles, and one more tape I want to show you, which was just a little bit earlier.

VIDEOTAPE OF NANCY PELOSI: (APPLAUSE) I accept this gavel in the spirit of partnership, not partisanship. For these children, for our children, and for all of America's children, the House will come to order. (APPLAUSE)

DIANE SAWYER: Looking back-- looking back, you've said this will not be a footnote.

NANCY PELOSI: Right. It is not a footnote. Well, being the first woman Speaker and breaking the marble ceiling is pretty important. But I think the-- the contribution is-- the legislation that we have passed for all of America's children. And it certainly was an honor to be in-- in the position to do that, to gavel the House to order on behalf of all of America's children, to be recognized by the President of the United States. And I-- I relish that. I treasure it. But it was-- it's-- it's in it's time, and it's in it's place, and now it's time to move on.

DIANE SAWYER: And if you said one thing to that woman taking that gavel, from this vantage point, it would be?

NANCY PELOSI: Job well done. But I would also say-- we all-- what's really important-- for women and politics in government to understand the-- the gratitude we have to those who went before, and the responsibility we have-- to those who come after. And I would want women to know that whatever the struggle, it was worth it. And whatever the risk, it is worth it as well.

DIANE SAWYER: Thank you, Madame Speaker. And I know that you know that men and women all across the political spectrum know what it means after 200 years to hear the words Madame Speaker.

NANCY PELOSI: Yeah, it's pretty exciting. Thank you.

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