Nancy Pelosi on That Red Coat: 'It Was Cold and I Needed a Coat'

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images


Nancy Pelosi is set to begin her final stint as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives tomorrow, a position she will have secured only after agreeing to term limits that would officially end her speakership in 2021. It was a politically deft move that appeased her myriad detractors, ensured the 203 votes needed to help confirm the seat, and illustrated perhaps her greatest strength: the ability to unite her party in order to get stuff done.

Born in Baltimore with five older brothers and a father who served as mayor, Pelosi became the first woman to ever lead a political party when she was elected Democratic Leader of the House in 2002. In 2007, she made history again as the first female Speaker of the House. Famous for being a fundraising juggernaut-she pulled in over a hundred million for the Democratic party last year-Pelosi has also proven herself to be a formidable politician, having been on the national stage longer than some of the incoming Congress members have been alive.

When Pelosi is sworn in, 106 women of all races, sexual orientations, and walks of life will join her in Congress. Many of them have voiced their concerns that a 78-year-old, wealthy white woman from California may not be the best representative for all Americans. Just days before her holiday break with family (she has five grown children) and the partial government shutdown, Pelosi spoke with ELLE about the shifting face of the party, the prospect of impeaching President Trump, and the fiery coat that spawned a thousand memes.

Photo credit: The Washington Post - Getty Images
Photo credit: The Washington Post - Getty Images

ELLE: Diving right in here, you’ve been cast as a villain. There are Democrats who won their elections by saying they wouldn’t vote for you. Republicans have spent enormous sums to vilify you. What does it feel like to be hated in that way?

Nancy Pelosi: I don’t necessarily feel hated. I feel respected. They wouldn’t come after me if I were not effective. I consider myself a master legislator. Republicans fear me for that, but also because I am a successful fundraiser, enabling our candidates to have the resources they need to win. So from a political standpoint they have to take me down, and from an official standpoint they have to take me down. But I’m spending more time talking about it right now than I ever have thinking about it.

ELLE: Before her passing, California congresswoman Sala Burton anointed you as her successor. Because of Burton’s support, one of your biographers wrote that you are “Exhibit A for the case that the only way for women to reach the top echelon in politics is through the committed assistance of other women.” Do you agree with that?

NP: Absolutely. I say to women all the time, “This is not a zero-sum game. One woman’s success is not subtracting from anybody else’s opportunity. It’s the reverse. Every woman’s success helps other women.” Imagine, Sala Burton, a member of Congress, deciding she was going to encourage me to run? That was remarkable. Usually it’s men to men. Because of her encouragement, I ran, and I won. Women helping women-people are now seeing the magnified impact of that, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

ELLE: What have you done specifically to help women in Congress?

NP: I try to give women confidence that what they have to offer is what this country needs, that they should not be intimidated by anybody underestimating what they can bring to the table. As women, we have a certain modesty about us, but you have to say, “I’m the best person for this job.” Everybody else in Congress, 435 people, have said that. Women should be saying that, too.

ELLE: There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the new class in Congress. Do you identify with them or your peers more?

NP: It’s not a question of one or the other. The intention that our founders had is that newcomers would come and among them would be a future leader or president of the United States. The respect that I have for the newcomers is that they are the future. But we have a wealth of knowledge and legislative skill in Congress. The combination of experience and invigoration is what’s exciting about the job that we do. And the willingness of the women members who are here to embrace and advance the women coming in is the thrill of a lifetime.

ELLE: Does their use of social media compel you to be more candid or transparent than you have been previously in your career?

NP: My lack of candor has never been something that anyone has ever commented on. But with social media, I do believe we will be able to turn this new Congress into a town hall meeting of America, and the public will be engaged in what we do. I see it as a way to bring out the vote and win the election, and it’s our responsibility to exploit it.

ELLE: You’re positioned to preside over a possible impeachment. What are your thoughts on that process?

NP: Impeachment would be a sad thing for our country; it would be very divisive. What I’m more interested in is protecting the Mueller investigation, seeing where the facts take us. So I feel serious and strategic about the prospect of impeachment. If we have to do it, we cannot walk away from our responsibilities. But it’s not something that I’m stirring the pot on.

ELLE: You characterized Trump’s border wall as being “a manhood thing for him,” which was just too perfect for late-night comedy.

NP: Yeah. That comment was made in private. I would have not made it at a press conference, but I’ve read it all over the world now. I was just trying to characterize the challenge we faced. Border security is an important responsibility. But a wall, in my view, is an immorality. It’s the least effective way to protect the border, and the most costly. I can’t think of any reason why anyone would think it’s a good idea-unless this has something to do with something else.

ELLE: The Max Mara coat you wore after your contentious meeting with Trump and Chuck Schumer is the most talked-about piece of outerwear since Melania’s “I Don’t Really Care” coat. Was that a deliberate choice?

NP: No, contrary to what you might read. It was cold and I needed a coat, so I went shopping in my closet. I had no plan or intention; it was just clean. Clean should be the first criteria. The funny thing is, my four daughters would never wear anything I’ve worn. But now everybody wants this coat.

ELLE: And your daughters?

NP: Still not my daughters.

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