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Minority Leader Pelosi's priority: Recapturing House for Democrats

| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi says she cares more about enabling Democrats to regain control of the U.S. House than becoming speaker again.

“It's not about me. It is about what we have to do for the American people,” she said.

Democrats control the Senate.

Pelosi and other party leaders are eyeing two Republican seats in Pennsylvania: Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick's 8th District in Bucks County and the 12th District of freshman Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley. Winning those seats could indicate support the Democrats need to recapture the lower chamber, analysts say.

Both congressmen have Democratic rivals raising money for the 2014 election.

“Those would be very important races for us,” Pelosi told the Tribune-Review. She is cautious about predictions: “... I can tell you in six months if we are going to win this. We are way ahead of where we thought we would be.”

Pelosi, 73, a Californian who went from being the nation's first female House speaker to minority leader in 2011, talked candidly about her goals and accomplishments in an interview in her Capitol office overlooking the Supreme Court.

“If the Democrats restored Pelosi to the speakership in 2015, it would basically be a historically unprecedented feat,” said Kyle Kondik, a political scientist with the University of Virginia who notes that a president's party never has taken control of the House in a midterm election.

“That's not to say it's impossible, but rather that it is a very difficult objective,” Kondik said.

Despite entrenched party positions and debates in Congress, Pelosi said she wants to encourage cooperation with Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

“That is our goal,” she said. “If we can't, we want to win the elections so that we can engage in bipartisan cooperation from the majority standpoint.”

At a fundraiser this month in Pelosi's hometown of San Francisco, President Obama told supporters: “My job is to make sure we move the country forward, and I think we can best do that if Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House once again.”

During the first two years of his first term, when Democrats controlled both chambers in Congress, Obama pushed through major policies: the more than $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; a $79 billion bailout for General Motors, Chrysler and GMAC; and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In his State of the Union address in January, Obama vowed to push for legislation on immigration, gun control and climate change.

Pelosi believes Republicans are taking note of public sentiment that favors the president's agenda. The election, she said, “showed the Democrats they can press on issues that Republicans refused to talk about before,” such as immigration and gun control.

“Nothing Democrat elected officials could have said before the election could be put as eloquently as 70 percent of Hispanics voting Democrat last November,” she said. “Now the Republicans are for comprehensive immigration reform.”

On the question of gun restrictions, she believes the parties will reach a “bold common denominator.”

To control the House, Democrats need a net total of 17 seats in 2014. Redistricting helped Republicans maintain control of congressional delegations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin, states that Obama won in 2008 and 2012. Of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional seats, 13 are Republican.

Bert Rockman, a presidential scholar at Purdue University, said Pelosi has strengths. She is “a fundraiser par excellence,” he said, and “she articulates the Democrats' causes well.”

But her loyalty to Obama could be a weakness, Rockman said.

“Often she has had her caucus take politically risky positions precisely because she was so frustrated with the Senate and its labyrinthian ways,” he said.

Rockman suspects Republicans will maintain their hold in the House.

“Although they may actually lose a few seats, they have margin to spare,” he said.

Even without majority influence, Pelosi praised her party's efforts to recruit minorities and women to run for House seats. She'll work to keep a Democrat in the Montgomery County seat held by Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who intends to run for Pennsylvania governor.

Diversity leads to diverse ideas, she said.

“So while the Republicans figure out how they talk to women and minorities, we have a majority of them as part of our caucus,” Pelosi said.

Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at

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