WASHINGTON - Nancy Pelosi won her biggest victory in her first 100 days as speaker by making peace among her own House Democrats. Mollifying moderates and staving off liberal defections, she narrowly wrung passage of legislation setting a troop withdrawal deadline from Iraq.
The Iraq legislation was the truest testament to her leadership, analysts said. The nation's first female House speaker has also passed a raft of other bills, set herself up as a visible opponent to President Bush and taken steps to protect Democratic incumbents who could be vulnerable to Republican challengers next year.
Key tests lie ahead when House members return from their April recess in the coming week.
The Iraq troop withdrawal bill faces a veto threat from Bush. Pelosi critics point out that her legislative priorities, such as raising the minimum wage and expanding stem cell research, have not yet become law.
But even opponents concede that Pelosi's kept her agenda, and herself, firmly in the spotlight since her history-making swearing-in Jan. 4.
"I have a great serenity about it because I understand why people have to do what they have to do, both Democrats and Republicans," Pelosi said in an interview as she prepared to mark the 100-day milestone Saturday. "And the challenge is a positive challenge."
Democrats noted the 100-day mark in their weekly radio address Saturday. "Our work is not done," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.
Public approval of Pelosi has waned slightly since her initial honeymoon, according to an AP-Ipsos poll conducted April 2-4. Overall, 46 percent said they approved of how Pelosi was handling her job, compared with 51 percent in mid-January, while 44 percent disapproved, compared with 35 percent in mid-January.
There have been controversies. A recent trip to Syria drew stinging criticism from the White House and consternation among some moderate Democrats, who viewed it as a distraction. In February, Republicans turned a minor story over the size of the government plane Pelosi takes to California into a full-blown flap when she didn't move quickly to respond.
Other disputes have served to show off Pelosi's backbone. When Vice President Dick Cheney argued Democrats' war approach would "validate the al-Qaida strategy," she unleashed a furious retort. The vice president's comment was "beneath the dignity of the debate we're engaged in," Pelosi said.
"She is not easily intimidated, and I think that when you deal with the White House and Karl Rove's people you cannot be a shrinking violet," said Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker. "And she certainly is not that." Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from San Francisco, has won praise from moderates in her caucus for including them in decision-making. Sometimes, it's her fellow progressives who give her trouble. That happened with the legislation to pull combat troops from Iraq before September 2008 that passed the House 218-212 last month. After reacting with alarm to early proposals that put more conditions on the war, moderates ended up with a bill most were comfortable with. Her more liberal allies complained the final product didn't go far enough because it continued to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It took hours of negotiating for Pelosi to tie down their support. Many liberals said they recognize the political realities Pelosi confronts as she aims to keep Democrats in power. Key victories the party won in November were in more conservative districts, and Pelosi must take care to protect those moderate incumbents. "My guess is that she's far more pacifist than the majority of our caucus, but I think she also understands that she's got to pass legislation," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. Pelosi's ability to do just that will be tested as she and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid head toward confrontation with the White House over the Iraq troop bill. Their meeting with Bush is scheduled for Wednesday. In a speech late Friday to Oregon Republicans, Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, criticized Democrats for "trying to run the war from Capitol Hill." Other upcoming priorities for House action including lobbying, ethics and election reform bills and legislation to fund more teachers and simplify taxpaying. Pelosi hopes to have a global warming bill ready before the Fourth of July. Some of the thorniest issues confronting Congress aren't scheduled for quick action: immigration reform, health care changes, a fix to the alternative minimum tax. It's in part a recognition that Pelosi is aiming to set goals she can deliver. "I want to demonstrate that Democrats are ready to lead," she said. (AP) Associated Press reporter Scott Lindlaw contributed to this report from San Francisco. AP-CS-04-14-07 1249EDT
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