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Time Magazine's Molly Ball On Her New Book, 'Pelosi'

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NANCY PELOSI: As the chairman of the Fed said to me, you've got to think big. You've got to think big. And I said the same thing to him. You've got to think big, and in order to think big...

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

That's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday on what the next coronavirus relief package will look like. And there will be a lot of negotiation in the coming days over just how big. I'm joined now by Molly Ball. She's Time magazine's national political correspondent and the author of a new book called simply "Pelosi."

Molly Ball, good morning.

MOLLY BALL: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When Pelosi says think big, she's thinking another trillion dollars on top of the nearly 3 trillion Congress has already moved. Where do negotiations stand at the moment?

BALL: They haven't really gotten underway. There's been, at this point, sort of a standoff with, you know, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making some comments about not wanting to do anything or at least not wanting to rush it. And then, as you alluded to, there's also this standoff about whether Congress should even come back into session, with the Senate deciding it will and the House deciding it won't. So I don't think that the negotiations have really gotten underway. I think you see the two sides staking out publicly where they would - the positions they'd like the negotiations to start from.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How bruising will the fight be within her party if the next package doesn't include things her members want, like money for election security and broadband access?

BALL: So far, we have seen the fight mostly between the two parties. There were only very few votes against the last package from both the Democrats and the Republicans. And I think that the Democratic caucus in the House has a lot of faith in Speaker Pelosi and her negotiating abilities, meaning that they know she's a very tough negotiator. And they mostly believe that she is going to sort of scratch and claw for the very maximum she feels she can get. She is a master of maximizing her leverage. So when she comes to the caucus and says, this is the best I could do; this is as far as I could push them - they mostly take her at her word.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about that because you've just written a portrait of Nancy Pelosi, and you, you know, show a woman who is exceedingly good at negotiating with her caucus and very much in control. One of the points you make is that the fight over the Affordable Care Act was the defining moment of her legislative career. Do you think this moment with the pandemic battering the country and trillions of dollars heading out the door may push the ACA out of that top spot?

BALL: I tend to doubt it, honestly, just because whatever's being done now is fundamentally a response and a relief effort. We don't see big policies being enacted that will change society for decades to come, and that's how she views the Affordable Care Act - as the linchpin of her legacy. It is very much the way she wants to be remembered - is for her pivotal role in enacting, you know, as close to universal access to health care as we have gotten in the life of this country. And that's a goal that Democrats had been trying and failing to get to for the better part of a century.

So as someone who really sees her lodestar as improving the lives of America's children - that's what she always says her work is focused towards. And I think she believes that that bill did more to advance that goal than any other policy she's played a part in over her 30-year career.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's a dynamic in the House that seems similar to the one that was experienced on the Republican side. There was the Freedom Caucus, Tea Parties who shouted the loudest even though there were more middle-of-the-road Republicans. Pelosi has the squad, some members who are very far to the left, and they get a disproportionate amount of attention. Is she doing any better in terms of corralling the far-left in her party?

BALL: I think she quite obviously is, as witnessed by the fact that the House has not come to a standstill on her watch. We did see the Freedom Caucus and, before, the Tea Party Caucus, paralyze the House when Republicans controlled it and the Republican speakers unable to maneuver around them or get them back into the tent. The so-called squad is four members. That is not a very large portion of the Democrats' majority.

And so, you know - and I think it helps that Speaker Pelosi herself comes from, if not the far-left wing, certainly the progressive wing of the party. She's a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which constitutes the majority of Democrats in the House. And so she can go to most of the liberals and say, I'm coming from where you're coming from, but we have to meet our colleagues - both the moderates in the Democratic caucus and then the Republicans on the other side of the aisle - we've got to move in their direction if we want to get anything done. And since she is always oriented toward results, oriented toward getting things done, that is always the argument she's going to make.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just finally, you know, she is the most powerful woman ever in American politics. Why has it taken so long for her to get, as you say, her due?

BALL: I think there's a lot of larger sort of sociocultural factors that have gone into - I spent a lot of the book talking about the perceptions of her, the negative perceptions of her, the way her image has been shaped and molded. And I really think that as a culture, for a lot of reasons, we've only recently come around to appreciating this sort of determined, aggressive, polarizing figure that she represents.

She really is a pioneer. But for a long time, this sort of negative image of her prevailed. And I think that she's come in for reconsideration at this moment in history when we are seeing an unprecedented wave of women's political activism. They've sort of turned around and said, oh, she was here the whole time. She was here before we got here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Molly Ball. She's national political correspondent for Time, and her new book is titled "Pelosi."

Molly, thank you very much.

BALL: Thanks so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.