Looking back at Nancy Pelosi's historic political career

The San Francisco liberal who met JFK at 17 and has been a bogeyman for Republicans for 35 years: Pelosi steps aside after a Taiwan trip, tearing up Trump’s speech, a controversial freezer video and attack on her husband that shocked D.C.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she is not going to mount another bid for Democratic leadership in an emotional speech on Thursday 
  • She’s the longest-serving Democratic Speaker and first woman to hold the gavel
  • Pelosi has been integral to passing key liberal agenda items like the Affordable Care Act and President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal
  • Her exposure to politics came early, growing up the youngest child of a father who was the mayor of Baltimore and a Congressional representative
  • Pelosi made a splash on the political scene early with an act of protest against China’s authoritarian leanings in Tiananmen Square in 1991
  • She also led a blue wave in Congress in 2006, driven by her opposition to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and involvement in the Middle East 

Nancy Pelosi announced the end of her historic tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives on Thursday, in a dramatic speech punctuated by a standing ovation from her colleagues. 

The longest-serving Democratic Speaker and first woman to hold the gavel was elected to Congress from California in 1987 through a special election and has since been one of the most effective liberal politicians in US history.

She’s met numerous world leaders, managed to keep control of an at-times fractured caucus, oftentimes as the only woman at the table of power, and maintained control of the Democratic agenda through parts of the George W. Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.

Through it she’s inspired both accolades and scorn from people on both sides of the aisle.

In her final stretch in leadership Pelosi saw herself become the top boogeyman for Republicans, with millions of dollars being spent on ads across the country – far from where she’s actually on the ballot –  to ‘fire’ her.

The surge in hostility has been blamed for the recent break-in of her San Francisco home by a man who said he wanted to ‘break her kneecaps.’ Pelosi was not home, but the intruder assaulted her husband with a hammer. He’s still recovering from the October attack, Pelosi said as recently as Sunday. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got a standing ovation on Thursday after announcing her intent to not run for leadership in the new Congress

She made history as the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007 (pictured holding up the gavel in January 2007 while surrounded by family)

Pelosi was first elected in her San Francisco-area district in 1987 through a special election

In the years since, she’s become a boogeyman for the right, inspiring millions of dollars’ worth of campaign advertisements urging American voters to ‘fire’ her

She made recent headlines for defying the Biden administration’s advice and forging ahead with a visit to Taiwan, aggravating China and temporarily inspiring fears of an armed conflict or invasion of the island.

Her second of two stretches with the Speaker’s gavel saw her become an arch-rival of Donald Trump’s. Their animosity toward one another was palpable through images and videos of their interactions, not to mention frequent verbal crossfire.

It reached a climax when Pelosi stood behind Trump after his State of the Union address and tore its pages in half. 

She also presided over both of his impeachments. 

The veteran legislator was 46 at the time of her election in the late 1980s, and a mother of five children with businessman Paul Pelosi.

During her speech in the chamber on Thursday afternoon, Pelosi marveled about her journey from homemaker to House Speaker. And yet, politics has been in her blood from the start. 

Pelosi was born in Maryland as the youngest child of then-Congressman Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who was later elected mayor of Baltimore.

She once shared a photo of herself as a 17-year-old Trinity College student alongside then-Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy on Instagram, writing: ‘My friend who took this picture said, “Save this! He may be President one day.”‘

Another memorable social media moment for the California Democrat came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she was criticized for sharing a lighthearted video of ice cream stashed in her freezer during lockdowns.

‘I don’t know what I would’ve done if ice cream were not invented,’ she told late night host James Corden in a video interview.

She wrote on Twitter after the fact, ‘We all have found our ways to keep our spirits up during these trying times. Mine just happens to fill up my freezer.’

Critics panned the video as tone-deaf in its privilege at a time when millions were suffering the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Many highlighted the fact that she was buying expensive artisanal ice cream as well.

She once shared a photo of herself as a young Trinity College student meeting then-Senator John F. Kennedy

She ran into him once again when her father Thomas D’Alesandro Jr. was selected to be part of JFK’s Federal Renegotiation Board (pictured: Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., former Mayor of Baltimore, talks on March 28, 1961 at the White House in Washington with President John Kennedy after taking the oath to become a member of the Federal Renegotiation Board. Mrs. D’Alesandro and their daughter, Nancy, left, are in the background)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pelosi’s critics took aim at her for sharing her lockdown treat – a freezer full of ice cream

It’s a sign of how polarizing a figure she has become over the years – inspiring thousands of political donors to throw in cash both for and against her.

But before securing her top spot, Pelosi was a young coastal Democrat who was vehemently opposed to China’s growing influence.

She won the 1987 special election to replace Rep. Phillip Burton, who died while in office. Burton’s wife Sala personally supported Pelosi as his successor.

People close to Pelosi pointed to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China as what drove her into public service, according to the Washington Post.

In 1991, when still a relative newcomer, Pelosi garnered international attention when she and two other US lawmakers held a message that read ‘To those who died for democracy in China’ in Mandarin and English while standing in Tiananmen Square.

She bucked the party line in 2002 when, as House Whip, Pelosi led Democratic opposition to the party’s own Iraq War resolution – though it ultimately passed.

Her leading of vocal opposition to the Bush administration’s conflicts inspired an anti-war electoral wave that saw Democrats regain the House majority in 2007 after more than a decade.

Pelosi, who became the Democratic caucus leader in 2003, became the first female Speaker in 2007.

The historic occasion was noted by Bush during his 2007 State of the Union address, inspiring an iconic handshake between the two political rivals.

President George W. Bush shakes hands with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi after his State of the Union speech in the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 23, 2007, after acknowledging her historic role

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