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Pelosi Cuts Deal With Democrats Who Once Opposed Her Bid For Speaker Of The House


It's been quite a week for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. She sparred on national television with President Trump and got him to say he'd take the blame if the government shut down.


And she struck a deal with insurgent Democrats that all but ensures she will be elected speaker of the House in January.

CORNISH: Remember; Nancy Pelosi was the target of Republican attacks in the midterm election and was considered so divisive that a sizable chunk of Democrats campaigned on a pledge to elect different leaders.

SHAPIRO: So now let's bring in NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell to explain how Pelosi managed to come out on top. Hi, Kelsey.


SHAPIRO: What did Pelosi do to get the Democratic holdouts to support her as the next speaker?

SNELL: Well, she basically agreed to term limits for all House Democrats and leadership, not just herself. And the deal would allow leaders to serve for three terms or six years, which means that she personally would only have one term left since she was already speaker from 2007 to 2011. And I'm told it was more or less coincidental that the deal came together this week. It happened just a day after that big, memorable Oval Office meeting. But Pelosi seems to be really taking charge this week, even if it isn't, you know, that the two things came together simultaneously. Democrats will have to vote to affirm this agreement, but Pelosi said she'd stick to the deal even if it isn't officially adopted into House rules. Here's how she explained it to us reporters earlier today.


NANCY PELOSI: I feel very comfortable about what they are proposing, and I feel very responsible to do that whether it passes or not.

SHAPIRO: So, Kelsey, it doesn't sound like this is a huge sacrifice for Pelosi. How much of a concession was this?

SNELL: It's really easy to argue that it isn't much of a concession at all. Remember; she is 78 years old. And she's been talking about herself as a transitional figure since before the election. Now, this is an opportunity for her to make good on that promise. If anything, it's really a good example of the kind of dealmaker she is, not just that she's a good one but what she does to get there. Basically everyone got to walk away from this saying they won something.

First, she knocked out the only person who was a potential competitor. That was Marcia Fudge of Ohio who just - you can remember a few weeks ago was floated as a potential speaker possibility. Well, she created a new job for her, and now Fudge will be leading a committee on election integrity. Basically Pelosi's playing all of her leadership cards as she kind of slowly picks off her opponents and has offered them everything in the box of cards she has - committee positions, leadership jobs. She's got a lot of tools to play, and she's playing them.

SHAPIRO: We hear a lot about what a skilled negotiator...

SNELL: Yeah (laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...Pelosi is. But does this mean that criticism against her is over?

SNELL: Well, no. It's - criticism of her will go on. She's been in power for a long time, and that's not going away. The criticism that she's out of touch with her party at a time when they're divided - that's also still really true. It also doesn't mean that she'll get unanimous support from Democrats in January, actually in just a few weeks, when they have this speaker's vote on January 3. A majority of the people who vote against her may well be those new members who pledged to vote against her in the campaign.

But she really is certainly more powerful than she was just before the election. We have to remember that Democrats gained 40 seats, and that's really huge no matter how you look at it. She'll definitely have to referee disputes between moderates and liberals who can both rightfully claim that they made huge gains in this election. And her critics aren't going to get any quieter. They'll just have more demands, and they'll want her to not negotiate with Trump and negotiate with them.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.