WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is unquestionably the most powerful woman in America. She was the first woman to be voted speaker of the House, and when Democrats reclaimed the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first to return to that position.
But Pelosi says despite that power, it's not good to climb the political ladder unless you can reach down and pull other women up along with you.
She is the first, but does not want to be the last. After eight years of being mired in minority politics Pelosi is back on top, again holding the speaker's gavel, and working to put more women in seats of power. It’s more than a goal, she explained.
"It is not a goal it's an imperative. When I first came here there were 23 women in Congress, 12 Democrats, 11 Republicans,” Pelosi recalled. “We made a decision on our side to increase that number--we have now 91.”
A record number applauded even by President Trump during the State of the Union. Democrats encouraged all congressional women to wear white to honor women's suffrage. But women in Pelosi’s party are not thinking - or voting - with a single mind, but with their own.
“I always say our diversity is our strength. Diversity in every way, gender, ethnicity, generationally, geographically, yes philosophically. That's our strength--our diversity. Our unity is our power,” Pelosi emphasized.
A power Pelosi reclaimed in 2018, admitting the 2016 presidential election was traumatic for women in her party and caused her to shelve a plan to retire from Congress.
”I did really believe that if Hillary Clinton had won for president and there would be a woman at the very head of the table--the Affordable Care Act would be protected, our initiatives for children - Hillary Clinton [was] so committed -that I could go home and work in the community and not necessarily in Congress. But that didn't happen and so here I am still,” Pelosi reflected.
First elected to Congress in 1987, Pelosi describes herself as naturally shy. A mother of five, she says she was driven to public service by a desire to advance policies supportive of children.
“I always say to people, put a gold star next to your experience as a mom. Some people say, ‘oh well I have this space where I was just a mom.’ I always say don't ever say I was just a mom or just a housewife--that’s a balance of diplomacy, interpersonal relationships, quarter mastering, care, feeding, driving all the other things and also just keeping the peace letting everyone reach their fulfillment not at the expense of anyone else,” Pelosi said.
“Back in the 80s, there was a saying--that women have to work twice as hard to get half as far,” NBC4 anchor Colleen Marshall said. “There was this feeling that there were a limited number of seats at the table for women. Was that daunting for you or was that the challenge that was inspirational for you?”
“Well first of all, there were no seats at the table for women in terms of a leadership table,” Pelosi answered. “Twice as hard for half as much recognition probably was true then and I don't want it to be true now, so I say to women, just know your power, be confident in what you bring to the table, there's nobody like you. The authenticity of you is your strength, and the country needs you.”
And although Pelosi is a lightning rod for Republicans, she concedes the country needs a Congress that can work with the White House, and a speaker who can work with the president.
“Increasing paychecks by rebuilding the infrastructure of America he says he supports that - we can do that by working together. So let’s find our common ground, we have a responsibility to do that. Stand our ground where we can, but again, not find issues from the start that are dividing but issues that are unifying. E pluribus unum. That's our founders' guidance to us. From many, one.”
Pelosi says during her first stint as speaker she rarely talked about the power that comes with the office, but now she does speak openly about her "clout" because she wants other women to have confidence in what they bring to the table.