WASHINGTON -- Republicans may control Congress for the next two years, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is already showing the GOP -- and the White House -- that she won't be a passive bystander.
Despite her party's drubbing in the 2014 elections, the past few weeks demonstrate that she feels emboldened in her position. She's also stepping up to shape the debate on a number of fronts, ranging from financial reform to health care to energy.
In an interview last Friday with The Huffington Post, Pelosi said she sees her role in this Congress as "a weaver," threading together consensus in her caucus to advance the policies they care about.
"I have a loom and I'm a weaver," she said. "It's not just me saying, oh, we should do this or that. Every thread, every member, is a source of strength for what we're trying to weave."
It's easier, perhaps, to keep your caucus united when you've lost most of your conservative members and have the smallest House Democratic minority in 85 years. The fact remains that Pelosi herself would much rather be crafting policy than stopping it. But with the hand she's been dealt, she's so far proven to be an asset to an Obama administration seeking veto-proof margins in the House. She's also, however, shown that she's unwilling to rubber stamp the White House's approach to getting things done.
Pelosi stunned GOP leaders last week by torpedoing a Wall Street deregulation bill they quietly tried to pass. When Republicans resurrected the bill, Pelosi prevented them from getting the 290 votes they needed to override a veto. She did the same thing with other high-priority GOP bills attempting to force action on the Keystone pipeline and dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
"We would hope to have the opportunity to work together. We're always open to that," she said. "But as they stake out the first week and say it's this, this, this, this, it is important for us to say, 'Not so fast.'"
Pelosi also sent a message to the White House last month that they best not cut her out of their strategic planning. At the end of the last Congress, President Barack Obama publicly endorsed a government spending bill before Pelosi had a chance to announce her opposition to it and potentially force changes to it. She responded by slamming the White House on the House floor and corralling all Democrats into opposing a procedural step to advance it, signaling she could bring the whole thing down.
Administration officials at all levels, including Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, spent hours calling Democrats, pleading for their support for the bill. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough raced to Capitol Hill, and the president left a White House holiday party to get back on the phone with more Democrats. In the end, Pelosi relented, and freed up her caucus to vote however they wanted. The bill passed, but her point was made.
She laughed off the dust-up on Friday, and said her frustrations with the White House that day were about tactics, not policy. She said her ability to keep her caucus in line has given the president some breathing room, but has also invigorated Democrats worried that their party might roll over after losses in the November elections.
"Frankly, our upholding his vetoes gives him leverage," Pelosi said, "but his veto gives us leverage."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may end up needing Pelosi's help, too. The far-right faction of his conference has signaled they're not thrilled that he's their leader -- 25 of them voted against him being speaker last week -- and they can be unpredictable in what they support. Boehner had to lean on Democrats five times in the last Congress to pass bills that lacked GOP votes, including measures to raise the debt ceiling and to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
House Democrats have their own divisions. Votes on bills aiding the financial industry have shown fractures between progressives and centrist, Wall-Street friendly Democrats. When the Wall Street deregulation bill first came up in September, 95 Democrats voted for it. That number shrank to 35 when Republicans brought it up last week on an expedited path. By the time it passed Wednesday, another six Democrats dropped off.
Pelosi said she was "very proud" that the vast majority of her caucus opposed the bill in the end. She said part of the reason so many Democrats switched their votes is because the bill had changed somewhat, by delaying a key Wall Street reform known as the Volcker Rule for an additional two years. But those members didn't come around on their own.
"Oh I was whipping it," she said. "I didn't want to have to whip it, but I did."
Democrats who still voted for the bill weren't happy about their party's revolt.
"Some of us are consistent," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told The Huffington Post earlier this week, adding that he proudly voted for the measure three times. The pressure to vote against the measure, he said, came from "mostly blogs on the left."
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said on C-SPAN the next day that the bill would only have made "a tweak" to the financial reform law, and that it was just months ago that dozens of Democrats supported similar legislation.
"The atmosphere is a little bit different," said Himes. "I think there were 35 Democrats who voted yes. On similar legislation in the last Congress, that number was more like 75 or so. [It was actually 95.] So yes, there were some folks who looked at the same thing this Congress and thought that they felt differently about it."
Pelosi shrugged when asked about Himes' comments.
"One person's tweak is another person's policy change," she said. "That's the way it is."