‘In a room of men’: Inspiring photo of Pelosi goes viral as she calls for more women in power after departure

Nancy Pelosi, 82, announced her departure as leader of the House Democrats on Thursday

Johanna Chisholm
Thursday 17 November 2022 20:57 GMT
Nancy Pelosi steps down as Democratic leader after losing House

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was the first woman to take on the role in the House in history and who successfully led the Democrats to power twice over the last two decades, announced Thursday that she would be stepping down from her post.

The news arrives on the heels of Republicans winning control of the House in the new Congress, but the Californian confirmed Thursday that while she has no intention of pursuing a minority leadership role, she does intend to remain in Congress.

“For me the hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” the 82-year-old Democrat said while delivering her outgoing address as speaker on the House floor.

In a fitting moment for the sole woman to hold the role as speaker of the House, Ms Pelosi welcomed the embrace of a young girl who attended the event in the House chamber, harkening back to the moment in 2019 when she was sworn in as leader amid a swarm of children standing upon the dais alongside her.

Throughout her the past two decades leading House Democrats, and dating back even further, when, as she characterised it on Thursday, Ms Pelosi made the transition from “home maker to House speaker”, she has served as an exemplar to women wanting to break through the seemingly uncrackable glass ceiling in politics.

That point was roundly celebrated on Thursday in the immediate aftermath of Ms Pelosi announcing her departure as a viral image from her time during the Trump administration made its rounds online again, this time serving a different message.

“Remember this photo? This is exactly why Nancy Pelosi is absolute boss,” tweeted Democratic activist Victor Shi while sharing the iconic picture of Ms Pelosi literally standing up to then-president Donald Trump and a table full of his advisers and loyalists – all of whom, as he points out, were men. “In a room of men who try to bring her down, she not only stands her ground, but she stands up to them. Nancy is a true leader.”

In a separate distinguishing moment from Ms Pelosi’s career as speaker during Mr Trump’s tenure, she once again served up shade to a president known for flouting tradition and frequently deriding women through misogynistic remarks, tweets and even speeches.

During President Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address, he awarded conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was known for filling his airtimes with diatribes against minorities and women, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ms Pelosi, who was seated squarely behind the president in camera’s view and only feet away from vice-president Mike Pence, made a small but distinguished protest of her own: with a flick of her wrist, she tore up the former president’s speech.

That small but poignant act was hailed by the former president’s critics as a rejection of his hateful and untruthful rhetoric and yet another instance of the Democratic leader standing up to powerful men, something she’s proven throughout her political history to not shy away from.

When the Baltimore native was just 12 years old, she had her first brush with managing powerful men as she acted as the bookkeeper for the men who owed her father – Democratic Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr – political favours.

Ms Pelosi didn’t enter politics till her mid-40s, when four of her five children had left the nest. That, she pointed out during an interview in 2012, was quite unlike her male counterparts at the time, most of whom entered the DC Beltway by their 30s. During that same interview, she reflected on how one of her greatest achievements in the House was helping usher along the family medical leave under President Bill Clinton.

“Most women will tell you that that issue is an obstacle, and men too," she said.”

But for the congresswoman from San Francisco who has made championing women’s healthcare one of her signature issues, one of the proudest moments in her career, by her own admission, was a speech she gave more than 25 years ago on the fight against AIDS and HIV, something she took the lead on when those topics were still considered taboo by other politicians.

While fighting for LGBT+ issues, Ms Pelosi acknowledged that getting funding wasn’t helped by the fact that some of her colleagues were more conservative, but also because those issues were being raised by a female member of Congress.

“Pat Schroeder used to say they don’t even have female mice at the National Institutes of Health,” said Ms Pelosi about her fellow Democratic congresswoman, who was also the first female US Representative elected in Colorado. “They don’t want to test on women because, you know, they have these other cycles and things. And we’re saying that’s exactly why you should.”

Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi. (ABACA/REX/Shutterstock)

While it was several years down the road, Ms Pelosi scored another win for women’s health with the passage of the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration, which also included a package of preventive and diagnostic care benefits of particular importance to women.

A streak of landmark wins in the early aughts quickly propelled Ms Pelosi to the status she has today, but all that couldn’t have been achieved had she not first won the post of Democratic whip in 2001.

As No 2 in the party, she then fundraised $1.8m for Democrats through her leadership PAC in 2002, which then led her to overtaking Dick Gephardt for the top job after he stepped down as minority leader, making her the first woman to ever lead a party in Congress.

Since that election, she’s led the Democratic Party as its leader, as she broke through the “marble ceiling” in 2007 to become the first female speaker of the House and, up until the election of vice-president Kamala Harris, was the highest-ranking and most-powerful elected woman in US history.

“For our daughters and our granddaughters today, we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, now the sky is the limit,” Ms Pelosi said after first becoming speaker in 2007.

She continued with that ethos as a guiding message throughout her tenure as the leader of the Democrats, frequently calling on more women to pursue elected office.

The nation stands at a “watershed moment in history” where “women are showing their power,” she said during an address in 2018, years after she’d passed the gavel Rep John Boehner when the Republicans won a majority in the House in 2010. “To build that future, we need more women engaged in every area of our democracy,” she said, listing women’s roles in school boards to voting booths to marches on the National Mall.

At the close of Ms Pelosi’s own speech on Thursday, she cited some of her own grander achievements as the Democratic leader, which included being a central player in passing some of the most significant laws in recent history, including the Affordable Care Act to President Joe Biden’s recently passed climate change initiative.

“I have enjoyed working with three presidents achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush, transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama and forging the future from infrastructure to health care to climate action with President Joe Biden,” she said, in a fitting slight at the only president from her tenure not directly mentioned – Mr Trump.

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