It was a bone-cold January day in the nation’s capital. The federal government — finally back in business after the longest shutdown in American history — opened three hours late due to a dusting of snow and a “flash freeze” in the forecast. Not that it mattered to anyone who worked inside the speaker’s office. Nancy Pelosi was there at her usual time, and her aides were expected to be there too. There was work to do: committees to finish assigning, a postponed State of the Union to organize, and less than three weeks to hammer out a deal with the White House on border security before funding was set to run out again.
Pelosi is at the height of her power, having recaptured the House, dispatched an attempted coup of her leadership, and faced down the president in a very public, extremely high-stakes fight. Her approval rating has risen eight points since November, and now sits higher than it has been in more than a decade.
Nancy Pelosi has waited a long time for this. Born 78 years ago, she was the youngest of Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro Jr.’s seven children, and the only girl. While her elder brother was groomed to follow in their father’s footsteps, Pelosi got married, moved to San Francisco, and raised five children before she seriously considered a run for office. When she arrived in Congress, after winning a special election in 1987, women made up just five percent of the House of Representatives. Pelosi served for two decades before she was elected the first female speaker of the House, in 2007, the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government, and second in line to the presidency.