"Conflict and complexity"

 
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Susan Page: [00:00:00] Here's Nancy Pelosi's number one lesson of power, which is one that her father taught her, which is nobody is going to give you power, you have to seize it and she has certainly seized power, including that first election to get into the leadership. She understands that when she steps down, she can't deliver the democratic leadership to anybody. They're going to have to go out and seize it. She may endorse somebody, but she can't deliver the office because nobody can, because nobody's going to give you power. You have to seize it.

Sarah: This is Sarah

Beth: And Beth.

Sarah: You're listening to Pantsuit Politics.

Beth: The home of grace-filled political conversations.

Sarah: [00:01:06] Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Pantsuit Politics. On today's episode, we are going to discuss a few of the top headlines in the first part of the show and then we've brought back our dear friend, Susan Page to talk about her latest biography, which is about Nancy Pelosi. We were both really surprised by how little we knew about speaker Pelosi. So I think you're really going to like that conversation. We always love talking to Susan, and this is no exception. Outside of politics, we're going to be discussing those of you who are getting back to the job market.

Beth: [00:01:34] Before we jump in, we are working very hard on our summer infrastructure series, and we are so excited for you to hear it in July. You might not think of infrastructure as like the most exciting topic, but we're hoping to break it down in a way that shows how different forms of infrastructure impact us in real life and so we are so grateful to those of you who have shared like what the actual cost of various utilities are for you, what childcare costs look like, and our contributors are working hard. It's just going to be a great series so get excited for July.

Sarah: [00:02:03] So we're going to talk about the latest discussion about the origin of COVID-19. But before we have that conversation, we did want to acknowledge that America experienced another mass shooting on Wednesday in San Jose, nine people were shot and killed. The gunman then killed himself at a local rail yard after a union meeting. It is another moment where I think governor Gavin Newsome expressed it best, we're all around sitting around wondering what the hell is wrong with this country while we continue to experience mass shootings and loss of life and grief and heartbreak, the ripple effects of which will affect San Jose and California and, and the entire nation for years to come. We're still learning more about the shooter and the victims and what happened but we did want to just hold space for another heartbreaking mass shooting.

Beth: [00:03:13] Sarah, I know that you've been talking on the morning news brief about renewed interest in the origins of the COVID-19 virus and renewed seems like the wrong word. I don't know what the right word is because there are people who have cared about this from the very beginning. There are people who have kind of had a sense of what happened and are now finding it disturbed. I have just felt from the beginning of this virus, like, I don't know where it came from, and I hope that someone finds that out, but that's not my top priority. So I haven't felt particularly shaken by this news, but I was interested in your thoughts.

Sarah: [00:03:48] Well, I think this particular development touches on so many things. I mean, it's definitely garnered a lot of attention because both the secretary of health and human services and president Biden called for renewed investigation into the origins of COVID-19 particularly the consensus seems to be turning from that it passed from animals to humans, to that it is increasingly likely that it escaped from the laboratory in Wuhan.

You know, Just me personally, from the beginning, I have definitely cared about the origin of the virus. I think it's really, really important and I thought, well, oxyn's razor here tells me that if there's this incredibly important lab dealing with high level biological viruses, and this is where it originated. Particularly so many of the people that were diagnosed with COVID at the very beginning did not have any contact with the market, which China was pointing to as the origin, like, well, this seems like a pretty likely scenario and I think what happened as people try to point that out or try to sort of criticize the Chinese governments, the narrative, the investigation media coverage, with what we've seen in a lot of places when it comes to COVID-19, which is there was such distrust within the Trump administration and its supporters that if any of this information came from that side, it was sort of this knee jerk well, of course they're wrong.

I mean, in particular, Senator Tom Cotten and hearings, and then later on Fox news was sort of pushing this idea and saying like, why are we not paying attention to the fact that there are some red flags coming from Wuhan, particularly with the Chinese government and it's pushing this theory that it came from the, the market there. Zenep Dufetchi had a really interesting breakdown of a fact check on when he said this and the way that they, you know, you scientists that disagree with him to say like, well, this is a conspiracy theory and I just think he gets it so much, right. It gets a media coverage. It gets at fact checking. It gets at reporting on scientific information.

I think it really gets to something that touches on why you're more comfortable with this, which is you're comfortable saying, I don't know and I think what this shows is so many people are not comfortable, particularly in the media saying, I don't know and I do think it touches on this idea that like, if it comes from the other side, it must be wrong. I love the way that David, David Leonhard and the New York times said it, which is like no side is right or wrong all the time. Right. Like no side is right all the time. And no side is wrong all the time and-

Beth: [00:06:25] This is the kind of inquiry where there shouldn't be sides, right. It's just a question. It's just a question of fact, right.

Sarah: [00:06:30] That's the problem though, with COVID right? Is that was never true. Yep. Probably because Donald Trump was our president when this pandemic started and so it was just like, that could not be true. Like that was just he infused politics into everything and I think that this is just one other space that this is playing out and I, but I do want to say this too. I think another issue is that this touches on, you know, what we've been talking about with Israel and Palestine, because I do think that there was a thread of this that was important and I think people were trying to do the right thing, which is in our disagreements and critiques of China, what we don't want to do is perpetuate anti-Asian hate or discrimination.

In the same way that like, you know, this was a conversation we were trying to have, like it's, we have to be so careful in critiquing Israel, because as we've seen in the United States over the last week, week and a half, that becomes anti-Semitic violence and I think like, I'm not really sure. I think this is actually the most difficult part of this situation is how do we in this interconnected global world critique countries, critique powerful countries aggressively enough in a way that does not put certain members of the population in our multicultural democracy at risk for discrimination and violence and I think that is incredibly difficult.

Beth: [00:08:15] I think that is the key question. I think about it constantly and I think one way is to break things down more. So if the origin of COVID-19 was a lab accident, that is a totally different thing than a weaponized virus. That is a theory that's never made sense to me, the idea that China deliberately pick COVID-19 in the world. So many people in China died. It has caused so much trouble for the Chinese government. It makes no sense to me that it was weaponized, but I think that that is a leap that people were making at the very beginning and trying to guard against that theory, getting much traction. So, you know, step one, what are we really even talking about here?

It concerns me. It concerns me to think that we might ever turn away from facts because we're concerned about any ramifications of those facts. So I don't think it is inherently racist to ask the question, where did this virus originate and, and why, and how could it be prevented again in the future? I also think it is difficult whenever you're talking about the Chinese communist party to grapple with both the fact that many Chinese people suffer because the Chinese communist party and the Chinese communist party has nothing to do with people who are from Asia, living elsewhere in the world and the fact that the Chinese communist party has this deliberate diaspora strategy of trying to harness influence throughout the world and all those things exist alongside one another.

And it is incredibly difficult to talk about justice. It's incredibly difficult to talk about Judaism and the Israeli government. It's so hard and so fraught. It's difficult to talk about Hamas, indiscriminately, firing bombs at Israel, without talking about all people across the world who look Muslim and are at risk whenever we're talking about any form of terrorism and and all of that is so unfair and so wrong and when we think about just the acts of hatred that follow any of them, these stories, I don't know, I don't know how to find the root cause of that other than thinking about just this fundamental, overwhelming loneliness and sense of disconnection from other humans that I worry so many of us feel and I don't know what to do about that um, other than keep attempting to do our best to say, okay, what is true?

And then what do we make this mean after we've ascertained that it's true and a lot of times that puts me back into the place of saying, I don't know, which is, you know, I appreciate you saying I'm good at that is the hardest lesson that I've had to learn in my life and one that the universe keeps teaching me over and over and over again in big things. And in small things, it is so much better to say, I don't know when I really don't because there are enormous consequences to theorizing and then trying to kind of make your theory true.

Sarah: [00:11:31] And I will say that I think the reason I think it is important to learn the origins of COVID-19 and the reason I've always been interested in sort of, I want to know the truth is because, you know, one so that we pay attention to what happened and, and prevent it from happening to other labs, there need to be changes at these labs. Cause I do think it escaped. I don't think it was, you know, released as a biological weapon. Sure was a sloppy release if that's the case and then I think that it is beneficial to the conversation we were having on the nightly nuance last night, which is we need to show the as best we can and as often as we can, the terrible repercussions of an authoritarian government, and this is a good example. They try to hide it. They try to cover it up. People lost lives as a result. They do not allow scientists and institutions to function independently and transparency and this is what happens as a result.

I'm not saying that something like this couldn't happen in an American lab. Accidents happen, but what makes dangerous was the, the government's reaction to it and the fallout from those decisions and that needs to be articulated and I think my somewhat pessimism, I like to think about it as just a open and loving acceptance of the human condition is that there is no way to prevent what Oprah calls, certain low frequency people from hearing even the most well articulated this was an accident that it came from China and not that fear-based response, having it play out as discrimination and sometimes violence. I wish there was a way to 100% prevent that and I think there's lots of things we can do to make it harder.

I guess my argument is, instead of saying, we can keep it from happening, we should acknowledge it is likely to happen. So how do we prevent the worst? Like be transparent about the fact that some people are going to have nasty reactions when we criticize China. Like learn from our history with world war II, learn from our history from Vietnam, learned from our history of some people are gonna have nasty, discriminatory, racist reactions to our decision-making or actions on the global stage criticisms on the global stage, and like be prepared for that and instead of just hoping it doesn't happen because I do think that we need to, and I think the Biden administration wants to become a more aggressive global competitor with China and hold China's feet to the fire on lots of things.

I also think this again, the national repercussions of their decision-making being it sending bad vaccines to Brazil, all kinds of things like that's going to play out. I don't, I see what they're trying to do and also history tells me it will fail. I see what they're trying to do in Africa. I see what they're trying to do in other countries, but I truly believe it will fail because of what we saw happen in Wuhan and I'm talking like this as a fait accompli and we know exactly what happened and I don't mean to do that.

I think there's still a lot left to learn, but you know what I'm thinking, like I have other examples in China where we can say not to be flipped, but like when you're authoritarian government, you have a tendency to get out in front of your skis, you know what I mean? Like transparency and diversity of opinion and the sort of principles that we, that function under a democratic government and under democratic institutions work, they are not perfect, but they work for a reason and I just think like, we need to make sure and articulate that and show that and I think this is a really good example to point out like, this is what they're trying to do and it is failing and I also think it's an important, as we've seen in America, particularly with the growth and anti AAPI discrimination and violence to like understand that this is the, the risk and instead of saying, well, it won't happen or we'll try to prevent it from happening and saying like, let's assume it's going to happen. And let's be real and concrete about how we're going to protect people when it does.

Beth: [00:15:33] So if I kind of go back to my, let me slow down and break things apart approach, I agree with you on needing to know the truth about where this virus originated, if that is possible and I think this far out from it, origin, it's going to be difficult to ever really know, but I hope that we can figure this out. I agree with you that the Chinese government has taken steps to prevent the world from meaningfully investigating it's origin and that is an enormous problem. I agree with you that I think it is highly unlikely that this was intentional.

If we determine that it came from a lab accident, another thing I want to break apart is that I don't think that means the United States should stop collaborating with scientists across the world to study these things. I don't think that means that we shouldn't study these things because the risk is so high. I think it means we need to figure out what happened and do our best to not have it happen again. It concerns me that on the Senate floor, because of our Senator from Kentucky, Ran Pau,l we're already like seven leaps down the road into, I believe it was a lab accident. I believe that we should stop funding any research and we'll.

That to me is like another train of thought. It is not as consequential and horrific as the violence and discriminatory actions against AAPI people. It is also though enormously consequential for the world and probably related if we really break it down to those discriminatory thoughts and reactions. Like we need to do science and I think the real difficult conversation that we keep having in so many contexts around COVID-19 is that the world is full of risks and it is how we manage those risks and respond to them. I would hate for us determining that this was a lab accident to jeopardize funding for research that might help prevent something like this again.

Sarah: [00:17:36] Yeah. And I think the media coverage just has difficulty holding all that complexity. I don't think I'm saying I'm like breaking new ground here, that conflict is rewarded and complexity is buried, especially in intense situations like COVID and I just hope we learned from that. I hope we integrate some of this learning. I think we will. I think I've seen, you know, a lot of coverage of the mistakes that were made. I think that's really positive and I just hope that continues.

Beth: [00:17:59] We'll give a shout out to a place where I'm seeing a lot of, I don't know. I covered the topic of Havana syndrome on the nightly nuance this week. Havana syndrome, if you're not familiar with that term relates to a condition that is coming up for diplomats and CIA personnel and just government officers across the world in different posts, but primarily in Havana, Cuba in Uzbekistan, in Russia and in China where people report just a very weird set of symptoms. One person called it immaculate concussion. It's like a lot of what happens if you got a concussion, but, but there was no actual impact and there are theories about it being microwave rays that are been weaponized. There are theories about it being some kind of Sonic weapon.

But I have noticed that almost every news outlet that I've read that's covered this has said like the headline and halfway through the piece and at the end, we just don't know. We don't know who D who is doing it. We don't know why it's being done. We don't know how it's being done. And it has struck me how unusual that is and how healthy it is. It's disturbing. It doesn't feel good, right? It's very, very unsatisfying, but I really appreciate the care with which that story is reported.

Sarah: [00:19:14] Next up, we're sharing our conversation with journalists biographer in Washington, bureau chief for USA today, Susan Page about her new book, Madam Speaker.

We are delighted to be here again with just one of our favorites, Susan Page, who has written another amazing biography. We had you at one of our live shows when you wrote that biography about Barbara Bush, which is one of my favorites and I recommend all the time and now you've done it again with Nancy Pelosi. Welcome back to the show.

Susan Page: [00:19:54] Hey Sarah and Beth, it's so good to be back with you. Thanks for having me back.

Beth: [00:19:58] Well, tell us how you chose the subject of Nancy Pelosi for your next biography. Quite a jump from Barbara Bush to Nancy Pelosi, some might say.

Sarah: [00:20:06] Or is it?

Susan Page: [00:20:08] So you're taking all my lines. So they seem pretty different, right? One's a Republican, one's a Democrat, one's the spouse of the others, the principal. But there are some ways in which they're like, and the ways they are alike are the things that appealed to me. They are both consequential. They both have had an impact on our country and they both are complicated. They both have some dark sides as well as bright sides and I thought that both of them had been not particularly well understood. You know, and Nancy Pelosi, particularly there are folks who love her. There are folks who demonize her, uh, and I thought neither of those was quite right.

Sarah: [00:20:47] I was appalled at how little I knew about her life. I mean, I am a person who worked for Hillary Clinton. I worked on Capitol hill. I was a women's studies minor. I put up my own women's history posters in eighth grade. Like this is my thing. I read all the first lady biographies. Like this is my, my, my passion is women in politics, women who really, you know, reach the pinnacles of power and I knew so little about her life.

Susan Page: [00:21:14] You know, when I was working on this book, of course I was interviewing anybody who was willing to talk to me and I was surprised by the number of people in politics who had worked with Nancy Pelosi, who did not know that her father was this larger than life political figure himself, the three-term mayor of Baltimore and somebody who instilled a lot of lessons in his only daughter. And so you are not alone in not knowing very much about Pelosi's background.

Sarah: [00:21:43] I mean, she keeps it pretty tight. Do you think she keeps it close to the vest on purpose?

Susan Page: [00:21:47] She's like the worst interview. Have you interviewed Nancy Pelosi on a podcast? You definitely should. I'm sure she would do it so you should ask her, but I'm telling you she's a really tough interview because she's guarded and she's incredibly disciplined. It's hard to get her to say anything she didn't walk into the interview. She's very private. She's actually kind of shy, which you would think about a politician who's been in power for so many decades. Uh, all those things make it hard to like break through, to get what she might not want to tell you or to understand some of the internal forces and impulses that have made her so effective as a politician.

Beth: [00:22:29] It was striking throughout the book to see all of the artifacts that you reached for to try to better understand her and I loved it when you would say, my son bought this on eBay, you know, and, and would just kind of tell us about that process. I wonder what was really surprising to you or super challenging as you were going through that kind of exercise?

Susan Page: [00:22:48] Well, I'd loved finding stuff that hadn't been found before and it was also, you know, we were just talking about how she's a tough interview. The most effective thing I did in interviewing Nancy Pelosi was bringing to her things I had found that she didn't know about. So for instance, her mother, who was this remarkable figure, her mother who was called big Nancy, Nancy Pelosi had to leave Baltimore to get away from being called little Nancy. Her mother, big Nancy was their uh, father's political organizer.

She was, uh, ambitious and restless and smart. She was a risk taker. She loved to play the ponies and it all, she was also, as it turned out an inventor. She invented this machine, this little aluminum machine to give women facials, and she filed patent papers at the U S patent office for this machine. So, uh, went to the us patent office, uh, and found the patent papers, her mother, and filed, she had never seen those before and as you mentioned, one of my kids went on eBay for my birthday last year and found an actual one of these machines called Nancy D'Alesandro's Beauty By Vapor and he bought it for me for $34 for my birthday.

Sarah: [00:24:02] First of all, I want to raise sons that thoughtful. That's just a very strong son gift on a birthdate and like, know what you're working on to that level of detail. I'm very impressed. You give me your parenting tips later. I was struck, speaking of her mother, you know, her mother was this organizer. She was really the ground game and the favor file that she kept. If anybody came in and they needed something, then that's fine and we'll help you but then your name goes in the file for the next time somebody needs something and I thought about when you make the point that San Francisco is really the most sort of like that sort of big city, political system, like you see in Baltimore, in Chicago, in New York, like San Francisco has that, that set up more than other cities on the west coast.

And also, you know, the thing I knew about Nancy Pelosi always and forever is that she's a phenomenal fundraiser and I think it was an easy narrative to say, like, that's how she rose to power. She raised money, but I think two things are true about that favor file and I want to hear what you think about this, like that it one, you kind of have to be running that kind of ground game to run that, to raise that level of money. Like, you know what I mean? Like you have to know favors and, and connections and networking to raise that level of money.

And also that to keep the caucus in line and to be able to accomplish what she's had to what she's been able to accomplish as leader, both as majority leader and just leader of the party, you're also working that favor file constantly, not just in fundraising, but in political organizing and campaigning candidate recruitment and I just think it's such an under appreciated political gift. And even back to when she was raising that it was her mother that was doing this right. Like it wasn't that her father, her father was the charismatic one, but the power play mostly in that favor file.

Susan Page: [00:25:46] Well, she was delivering the votes when he was running for election and she would, uh, big Nancy would sit at this desk in the front room of their home in little Italy, a small townhouse that now our cousin lives in, it's still in the family and people would sometimes be lined up on the sidewalk outside to come in to seek favors and from the time she was a little girl, little Nancy would be seated by her mother taking notes on these cards so that they could both take care of what the constituent needed, but also keep a record of it and they would use that in a couple of ways. Later on when somebody down the road had a favor that they needed, that maybe a previous recipients could help on, they would go back and get that person who had gotten a favor to pay it forward in effect to help out somebody down the road but they also would make sure that person was turning out for a political rally and certainly turning out on election day and certainly voting for Tommy D'Alesandro.

Beth: [00:26:48] I kept thinking about in the favor file chapter, which was one of my favorites was how Nancy Pelosi has become such a nationalized figure. I had just been reading the day that I read that chapter an article about how in local races right now, statewide races, nobody's running against Joe Biden. Republicans are running against Nancy Pelosi and I thought how odd that she was raised in such a hyper localized version of politics and has become this national symbol.

Susan Page: [00:27:21] Yeah. But, but it's, as Sarah was saying, it's the same thing, right? Doing the running the favor file for constituents in Baltimore is exactly the same thing as running a favor file for democratic members of the house, uh, who you're trying to hold together in your caucus, but it's, you are certainly right that she's become a nationalized figure on both sides. She's somebody who unites Democrats. She's was the face of the democratic opposition during Trump's presidency but you know, she unites Republicans too and as much money as she has raised for Democrats, Republicans have raised off her name for Republicans.

Sarah: [00:27:55] Before we move on from her raising, as we say in the south, in Baltimore, I was struck by the story of the death of her brother before she was born of pneumonia.And I was struck by that because the same day I was reading the New York times morning brief, and David Leonhard was making the point that public health breakthroughs are essential and so important, but it is really the government who distributes those public health and makes them wildly available and that her brother and her family was caught in this in-between time when the, the scientific breakthrough was discovered, but not available.And I wonder how much of that generation, and even maybe back to like Barbara Bush's generation, like how much they have taken in that insight, even subconsciously that they were in the lag, right? The lag between, we knew things that could save the life, but we couldn't get to them because the government hadn't gotten them to us yet and how much that plays in their conception of public service and serving and governing

Susan Page: [00:28:53] it's it's. I think it's one of those lessons she's so internalized. Uh, you know, maybe that affected her early advocacy on behalf of people with HIV aids. Uh, you know, she became a big advocate for compassionate treatment, for research at a time that was considered a kind of a risky political step to take. Now she was representing San Francisco, which was the city hit hardest, but in those early days by this epidemic, but in, you know, I think you saw that reflected go forward to last year. I think you saw some of those same impulses reflected when she was do, trying to think about dealing with the early days of COVID-19 where you remember she pushed for dramatic exponentially, more funding than president Trump was proposing in the early days of the pandemic, uh, because she wanted this all in effort funded by the government to get a vaccine and distributed.

Uh, it, you know, there's another way in which you think about the effect of your parents and doing these two biographies has really, I guess that's the most, um, uh, obvious thing in the world to say. Uh, but you just see how parents leave an imprint on kids in so many ways. Uh, you know, she's her position on immigration where she is pro, she thinks immigration is one of the things that makes our country strong. Uh, she's uh, very much opposed to discriminatory uh, actions against immigrants. She was quite dismayed by the Trump administration's policy and immigration.

Well, her family bore the brunt of discrimination against immigrants when they immigrated here, her grandparents from Italy, a time when Italian immigrants were seen as not very smart and, uh, not very clean and, uh, and not very law abiding and fed all these stereotypes about them, that her ancestors had had to deal with. All those lessons had an imprint that even now at age 81 is reflected in her politics.

Beth: [00:30:54] As you move into talking about her political career, I felt you trying to both really explain to the reader that Nancy Pelosi says she never intended to be a politician while simultaneously helping us know that there's a lot of skepticism about whether Nancy Pelosi actually intended to be a politician and I would love to hear you talk about that and, and how your thinking on that maybe evolved throughout the course of the book.

Susan Page: [00:31:20] So she, you know, she, who was, who was more born and bred to be a politician, the Nancy Pelosi, the daughter, of Tom of the Elder and Big Nancy, uh, you could not have had more training for the, in the world of politics, but you know, I, in a way I take her at her word. I think it's generational. I think that neither she, nor her parents ever thought she would run for office. She could be an advocate. She could raise money. She could do the kind of organizing her mother did, but the idea that she would do what her father did was something that required a leap of faith that it took her a long time to make and I think like many women of her generation, she only took that leap of faith when another woman encouraged her to do that.

There had been some male politicians, including Mario Cuomo and Jerry Brown who had urged Nancy Pelosi to run for office before she did but it was only when Salah Burton, who was a San Francisco Congresswoman, who was dying. So Salah Burton called her and said, I think you should run for my seat when I die and I'll endorse you, that Pelosi made that switch. She went from being, working in her mother's path to working in her father's path.

Sarah: [00:32:31] Well, because she stayed political, you know, she was raised to be a political animal and she was, you know, even when she was raising a lot of children, she had that. She will tell you, she had five children in six years and I don't want to skip that phase of her life because I think it is also like you see it in so many areas of her career. I will never, as long as I live, forget that press conference, when somebody said you hate him and she, I mean, she, you could hear, it's not the word she used, but when she said what she said, all I could hear is we don't say hate in this house. Like I could just, that was such a strong mom moment.

I was, I've never loved her more than in that press conference and she was like, I don't, I don't hate anybody. I am Catholic. Like I could just, her mom energy was so strong and you can just see like that organizing that strength that like, I'm going to put on this mom wall and you're not going to get past it and you can try it. But I had a lot of little kids and a lot, and I thought also all the tidbits about like how she kept them organized and dressed and who did the laundry and like, all of that was just so humanizing. I mean, truly it is like very humanizing for somebody who has been a part of this like national narrative that has little to do with the human being that she actually is.

Susan Page: [00:33:44] You know, the other time we saw the mom come through was the first president Trump's first impeachment and the house was voting on two articles of impeachment and they voted on the first one and it passed and some Democrats started to cheer and she shot them a look that is familiar to all of us who have mothers was like, do not do that and they stopped.

Sarah: [00:34:05] It's just amazing. I love it so much. I just think it's such good. It just shows the, exactly what you said, like the skills are wide and varied when it comes to being a politician, that's as good as she is. Right and as like, her skills are very diverse and I think the generational component, like I totally agree. We were talking about this earlier and I said, you know, my grandmother is 84. I am very close to my grandmother. The idea that my grandmother, as a child was thinking about running for Congress. I mean, you might as well have said she was planning on being an astronaut. Like it just was out of the realm of possibility at that age.

Susan Page: [00:34:41] It's remarkable, not so very long ago either, right. But now of course, women can be run for office. Women can be vice-president maybe one day president let's hope women can be astronauts, but it was only a generation or two ago when that was just really unthinkable for most people.

Beth: [00:34:57] One of the aspects of your book that got a lot of attention when it came out was how the speaker talked to you about the squad and I wondered, I was just thinking about what it must be like as a woman journalist. I mean, you two have ascended to a place that women of Nancy Pelosi's generation would not have aspired to, right? So a woman in your position, talking to a woman who is the most powerful second, most powerful now woman in government about these young women who have become iconic in their own way, very, very early in their careers. I would just love to hear kind of how you approach that topic with her and what you hope the conversation might look like and how it turned out?

Susan Page: [00:35:41] So that was, uh, first, I just have to say she would dispute one thing in your question, which is she would dispute that she is now the second most powerful woman in American politics. The first, when someone said that. After Kamala Harris was like the vice president, Pelosi made the point that the speaker of the house has a lot more power than the vice president. The vice president's power is derivative. So she is now one step Kamala Harris is one step closer to the presidency, uh, in the line of succession but Pelosi, I think, would say she's still the most powerful woman,

Beth: [00:36:17] I like and respect that clarification.

Susan Page: [00:36:21] So the, this interview, I said that she's a tough interview. This was the best interview I had done with her until one I did about three weeks ago, which was a little better. But in terms of getting her to be candid, This was great because she was so mad that she put down her and let down her guard. She, it was this interview, one of the interviews I had for the book, I had 10 and all who happened to be on the day that a dispute with the squad just blew up. It was a dispute over the squad defecting on a vote on immigration and then there was some back and forth and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's chief of staff then posted a tweet that characterize some uh, house Democrats compared them to those old Southern Democrats who had blocked civil rights legislation for so long, that is a really inflammatory charge to make, especially against a Democrat, a fellow Democrat.

And so when she came into the interview, she was still all wound up from this fight that you just had in the democratic caucus and so I started to ask her about it and she became, uh, actually then annoyed with me because she didn't really want to talk about it and she said, you know, it was nothing, it was Democrats being Democrats. I then quoted something she's had said, which is, I said, does a squad understand the difference between making a beautiful Patay and making sausage? And the point that Pelosi had been making with that comment was that wouldn't it be nice? We'd all like to make a very nice wine Patay but most of the time we're making sausage up here, which is kind of messy and coarse, and sometimes you leave blood on the floor and she said, yeah, they don't understand the difference between that and when they want to get something done, maybe they will.

And then she said some people, and here she was quoting Dave Obee who had once been chairman of the appropriations committee. She said, as Dave Obee used to say, some people come here to pose for holy pictures and say, see how pure I am and other people come here to get something done and it was clear that she thought the squad was posing for holy pictures. And even though Pelosi is a devout Catholic, that was not intended as a compliment.

Sarah: [00:38:39] Mm Hmm. Well, here's where I'd like to ask you about, you know, she has a relationship within the democratic party and I think her point is a good one and I think, well, before I ask about her relationship with the Republican party, I do want to ask about leading the democratic party, because as I was reading and thinking about her leadership from San Francisco, from this incredibly liberal district, which is basically, you know, once you have the seat, you have the seat, right and I thought this is kind of a weird dynamic we've set up for parties, right? Is the people who lead them are sort of the people you need to be there for the long run in a very safe seat and also because they are in a safe seat, you need this person that understands like the moderate, who's always fighting for their seat.

It's this very weird dynamic within a party. And I think you see it with like AOC and Abigail span burger this like, but she does, despite the fact that she's in this incredibly safe district and, and she's managed to become leader leading the democratic party with members from all over the country, how do you think that, do you think it's the lessons from Baltimore where she's able to keep that in mind or do you, do you also think that sort of by design, this is an inherently conflict ridden, difficult position to be in?

Susan Page: [00:39:57] Well, of course, when Republicans say she's a San Francisco liberal, they're right. She's from San Francisco and she's really liberal. Uh, but she's also a Baltimore paul, you know, she's also her, her father and her mother's daughter and Pelosi understands that if you want to be speaker, that is, if you want to hold the majority, you need to elect people from swing districts where it is very toxic to say, you're for defund the police or you're for the green new deal, or you're for Medicare for all. Those are liberal policies that will not fly in some of the districts that you have to win and one of the things that annoyed the squad and others in the most progressive side of the party is that Pelosi has been very protective of those moderates.

She calls them the majority makers and sometimes and rebuking more liberal policies that she probably would support herself in her heart, but she thinks that politically not the right thing to do. And Pelosi has closely, is never posing for holy pictures. Right? Pelosi is never trying to show how pure she is. Polosi is focused on what can I deliver? One point of dispute with some of the most liberal members is that Pelosi would take half a loaf over no loaf any day and if you can get the whole loaf, that's great. But if you can't take half a loaf and not everybody in her caucus would agree with that.

Beth: [00:41:25] She has had the opportunity through two impeachments, which I'm sure she would have preferred to have different opportunities, but through those champion moments, she's had the opportunity to elevate the profile of a number of members of her caucus and I would love to hear your insights on her strategy in choosing those impeachment

Sarah: [00:41:44] managers. I thought that part was so interesting where they didn't even know until they showed up in her office and she's like, okay, it's you you're

Susan Page: [00:41:50] up? I know it wasn't that wild. Uh, and she didn't consult with anybody. There are no, there's no question who is going to pick up the impeachment managers, which was this huge plumb, because you are going to be at the center of historic events and you're also going to be on TV day and night so there was nothing about that, that members of Congress of either party wouldn't like the, to have. She, she said that every, there were 200 Democrats who wanted to be impeachment managers. You know, there are only like 220 in the house. So that's just about all of them.

And she picked this interesting group that included some real surprise choices. Uh, you know, for one thing, she didn't make Jerry Nadler that chairman of the judiciary committee head of it because even though by being chairman of judiciary he thought he ought to be, she made Adam Schiff with whom she's very close, head of the impeachment managers behind the scenes, she kept, she would call him, refer to him as the general.

And then she chose this very diverse group, this very deliberately diverse group that included some people who were pretty prominent cause you know, Zoe Lofgren who had been worked on impeachment as a staffer in the Nixon, impeachment had been around for the Clinton impeachment and so she had a lot of experience, but she's chosen people who were surprising. She chose Jason Crow who was a freshman Democrat from Colorado who had opposed her election as speaker, but he had this great history, military veteran, JAG officer, uh, she thought he would be good. She put him in this very plum job.

Val Demings, uh, who was not a lawyer, uh, the Congresswoman from Florida, but a former police chief from Orlando and, you know, Val Demings was also a pretty junior member of the house and by putting her there, giving her, giving her the platform of impeachment hearings, Val Demings first was on the shortlist for Joe Biden's running mate, and now has launched a Senate campaign against Marco Rubio and that is due, at least in part to Polosi giving her that opportunity as an impeachment manager.

You, you know, in the book, I would compare it to ocean's 11, which is a book that really liked and how, uh, George Clooney fucked all these people with different particular skills, uh, for the heist. Uh, and Pelosi was kind of doing the same thing.

Sarah: [00:44:10] Well, and what's so interesting is you have other. You know, stories where somebody like opposed her and then they couldn't get a meeting. They couldn't get it that it's like, it shows you like, it's really, it's political. It's not about ego. If she thinks the politics makes sense, the politics make sense. If you were opposing her just to oppose her and the politics didn't make sense for you or anybody else, she's going to remember that too. Like, I just think it's so interesting because you know, both picking somebody who posts her and then that poor woman from Nevada who couldn't get anything until Harry Reed came and prostrated himself, you know, like it's just fascinating.

Susan Page: [00:44:45] Harry Reed had to beg three times. It took him six years to get this new Congresswoman from Nevada on the committee she wanted on because she had the offense of not voting with Pelosi and a leadership in a leadership fight. House Democrats understand that you do not want to cross Nancy Pelosi one hundred percent.

Sarah: [00:45:03] I understand that and I'm not in the house

Susan Page: [00:45:06] one, a political reporter described her as an iron fist in a Gucci glove and that is like the perfect description of Nancy Pelosi because she does have a Gucci glove. She does know how to run the favor file, but when she needs an iron fist, she has that too.

Sarah: [00:45:22] Well and that's why I want to ask about the Republican, her relationship with the Republican party, because I thought that the interviews, you know, John Bayner and a couple of times, like people made the point, look, she holds responsibility for the polarization too. There were times when it might have benefited the country for her to work with the other side, but it did not benefit her party and she chose to benefit the party and not, you know, not make out or reach out or do the compromise or whatever the case may be and that she, you know, that iron fist comes down on the Republican party pretty, pretty often as well.

Susan Page: [00:45:53] You know, I think that's true now. Nobody's saying policy's responsible for polarization, but she's operated effectively in a polarized world and John Bayner told me, there were times when he wanted to lower, when John Bayner was the Republican speaker, there were times he wanted to lower the rhetorical temperature and that she would not follow suit at top of aid, former chief of staff to, George W. Bush told me the same thing. That George should be, you know, in 2007, when Pelosi was first elected speaker and it was the first time she was on that chair, behind the president for a state of the union address.

You remember George W. Bush came and made very gracious comments, that he was the first time in history any president had said the words, Madam speaker, and he talked about her dad who had served five terms in there house and Bush thought that Polosi never reciprocated. That there was an opportunity to have a more productive relationship than they had. I will say that the places where Nancy Pelosi learned lessons of power, Baltimore and San Francisco, you did not need to work with Republicans. These were both democratic strongholds. You had to worry about the Democrats who might challenge you, not about building bridges with Republicans. And in some ways I think our career reflects that training.

Beth: [00:47:12] Well, especially it, it surprised me in his early chapters. I think that occasionally I succumb to this romanticized view that America hasn't always been so polarized and when you told the story about her refusing to take an elephant from someone, because she knew what that was. I just, I thought this is a good reminder that we have always had strong tension between these parties.

Susan Page: [00:47:34] Yeah, that was when she was just a little girl and her father had on election day, took her to a polling place and a polling worker tried to give her a little stuffed element, elephant, a toy, and she wouldn't touch it. She understood that elephants were not to be embraced in any way and years later, she was about to rent a house in San Francisco, she and her husband, Pelosi. They'd had a lot of trouble when they moved to San Francisco, finding a place that would take a family with five young children. One can only imagine why and they finally found a place and they were about to sign the lease and she found out that the reason the house was available was that the owner had gotten an appointment in the Nixon administration and she backed out, she said, I can't rent a house that's available because of that, because of Richard Nixon's election and they didn't rent that house.

Sarah: [00:48:27] I was fascinated, you know, as you, as you look at her long career, but a longer that took place after she had primarily raised her children, that means it's a long career in that she is quite older. What is she, 81 right? The best quote I thought into it cause I wonder about it all the time. Listen, I wonder about those heels on that marble floor. I'm very, I have so many questions about that, but I thought the quote from her husband that said basically, you know, you're talking about particularly in COVID when everything was so intense and she was there all the time and he said, I just don't think she knows how old she is and I am blown away by that and I'm one way by her a level of energy and her level. I mean, and now she's, hasn't decided if she's going to run again, like that's back in the news and I'm just like, What, what? That's not really question, I guess that's just my shock.

Susan Page: [00:49:21] She didn't run for office until she was 46. She was 47 when she first got elected and I wonder if there's something about having a late start means you want to stick around because by the time she got the Congress, there were members of Congress, many men, her age who had served four or five terms already. Uh, there's also, it's also true though.And this was one of the things I discovered in writing the book that in 2016, she had actually planned to retire.

She hadn't told people this, but she planned to retire after of course, Hillary Clinton was elected president as she and the rest of us, most of the rest of us saw. Uh, and it was only when Trump got elected that she decided to stick around for some more terms. I do think this is probably her last term. I do think this is her valedictory term. She's 81 years old. She's got nine grandchildren. She might possibly want to start wearing something besides those stiletto heels.

Beth: [00:50:15] I found more understanding for the longevity of her career though, in that story about Saleh Burton, when you are asked to run because someone is dying, I think that might change your perspective on this is a thing that you retire from earlier than, you know, the late stages of your life. That, that story was really helpful to me in a number of ways.

Susan Page: [00:50:36] Yeah. It's, it's interesting. There's really a relationship among women you think and not that we don't have men who are our friends and who we rely on as mentors and all that. I'm not saying that, but I think there is something, there is something special about your relationship with women who have carved a path for you and also women who are peers who form your support group, your group of girlfriends, and for your relationship at my exalted age, with younger women who are just getting started.

Sarah: [00:51:08] So if this is her final term, That means that the democratic party is facing the ending of an era and some big decision-making. I'm wondering all these interviews and all this reporting. What do you see as the future? Who do you see as her successor?

Susan Page: [00:51:27] Here's Nancy Pelosi's number one lesson in power, which is one that her father taught her, which is nobody is going to give you power, you have to seize it and she has certainly seized power, including that first election to get into the leadership. She understands that when she steps down, she can't deliver the democratic leadership to anybody. They're going to have to go out and sees it. She may endorse somebody. Uh, I don't know if she will or not, but she can't deliver the office because nobody can, because nobody's going to give you power. You have to seize it.

That said, you know, she's pretty close to Hakeem Jeffries, the Congressman from New York, who is a member of the leadership, who was she named as an impeachment manager, that's a sign of health of her high regard, uh, and who would be himself. She was a groundbreaker as the first woman. He would be a groundbreaker as the first person of color to lead one of the parties in Congress but there are a couple other prospects. Uh, you know, Karen Bass from California and some surprises. I bet there'll be a candidate from the left side of the party.

Um, it'll be, it'll be a battle and whoever gets elected, they're going to be different from Nancy Pelosi, right? They're going to have different strengths and different weaknesses and probably face a different landscape cause it is more likely than not, the Democrats will lose control of the house next year. So they'll be back in the minority.

Sarah: [00:52:51] Well, and it will be shocking if it's as long of a term as hers. Like as long of a, to keep that position of power for as long as she has, I would be really shocked if somebody can maintain that.

Susan Page: [00:53:01] You know, it'd be historic. She's had the longest tenure of any leader since Sam Rayburn. Wow. And one thing that struck me was people say, Nancy Pelosi, if you said Nancy Pelosi to somebody who is, she, they'd say she's the first woman to be speaker of the house and that is true. But you could also say who's Nancy Pelosi and you would say she is the most consequential speaker of the house. At least since Sam Rayburn and maybe longer than that and in some ways the fact that she broke ground with her gender has obscured the fact that she has been such a powerful and productive speaker of the house.

Sarah: [00:53:40] So true.

Beth: [00:53:41] Susan, as I was reading the book, I was thinking about the fact that you moderated a vice presidential debate while you were working on this book, that you've been writing for USA today, that we have this presidential election, a pandemic, so many things pulling at your professional attention while you were working on a really detailed biography of speaker Pelosi. So I wonder as you kind of process everything that was going on in the world while you were writing the book, did anything in the book, jump out to you as like just a crucial relevant insight for where we are politically today?

Susan Page: [00:54:16] You know, uh, Pelosi has a couple favorite sayings. One is nobody's going to give you power. You have to seize it. Another one is don't agonize, organize. And this is something she started saying after the only ratio of her loss. She made a bid in 1984, 85 to chair the democratic national committee. She thought she was going to win. She thought she ought to win. She probably was the best candidate after a campaign that was just full of sexist attacks. She lost. And at the end of that, she said, don't agonize, organize and at that point she just ignored obstacles in her way and plowed ahead and that has been these four disruptive years with president Trump. I think that's been good advic and just in general in life, when you feel overwhelmed, uh, you're not sure you're going to make it through don't agonize, organize is probably pretty good advice.

Sarah: [00:55:13] Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking with us about Nancy Pelosi and your insights about consequential women in American history. Just keep them coming. Do you know who your next biography is going to be about?

Susan Page: [00:55:25] Well, I'd like to do another one, but I haven't settled on a topic. So do you have any suggestions?

Sarah: [00:55:31] Oh, this is the moment in my life. I've been waiting for the biography I want to read, I gotta, I gotta think about it. What about you, Beth? Who do you wanna read a biography of?

Beth: [00:55:40] I would like to read a biography on ambassador Swanee Hunt, for sure. I think her life is so interesting and we know her to be such a lovely human being personally. I think that would be fascinating. I would also read a Susan Page on Condoleezza Rice in a hot second.

Sarah: [00:55:59] Yep. Yep. That's a good one. That's a good one. I don't know. I'll have to think about it. I will say I will submit my suggestion. I'm going to have to ponder this a little bit. Who do I really? Who am I really intrigued by?

Susan Page: [00:56:10] Yeah. Send it to me anytime. There are a lot of, you know, there are a lot of interesting women out there who haven't gotten their due.

Sarah: [00:56:17] Yeah. Well, there's all that, that new podcast about Lady Bird Johnson. I'm going to be honest. I was not giving Lady Bird Johnson her due. The fact that she was talking to him that much, I would never have guessed it. Never, ever had guessed what they're like revealing with all that audio. Yeah.

Susan Page: [00:56:31] That's a Julia Sweig. That's a really good book.

Sarah: [00:56:34] Yeah.

Beth: [00:56:35] I would say with Condoleezza Rice, just to make my pitch, your criteria of consequential, dark and light sides, interesting, not well understood. I think she fits. I'm just saying.

Susan Page: [00:56:46] Yeah, that's great. Have you guys interviewed her on your podcast?

Beth: [00:56:50] We haven't.

Susan Page: [00:56:51] You definitely should. You should say, we just recommended you to have a biography written about you so won't you come on and talk to us on our podcast.

Sarah: [00:56:58] We should.

Beth: [00:57:00] We should do that. Thank you.

Sarah: [00:57:02] You know who else I'd like to know? I think I have mine. I will not to just keep on the first lady bit, but I do think they're so fascinating. There was a moment in an interview with Jimmy Carter, where he was talking about Rosalyn was really pushing him to go in with force in the hostage crisis and I thought really? Like, I was like pretty often telling him, like, you're not being hard enough or like, even in some elections, she was kind of like pushing him to be a little more cutthroat and I thought, I don't think I understand Rosalind Carter. I think there might be more to Rosalind Carter than I thought there were. It was just really interesting to me. Like I, you know, that he was like, yeah, she really wanted me to be tougher and I was like, whoa okay, that's not what I expected.

Susan Page: [00:57:46] Oh, well, those are great ideas. Thank you so much.

Beth: [00:57:49] Thank you again, Susan, always great to talk with you.

Susan Page: [00:57:52] Hey, thank you so much for having me back in and congratulations on your great podcast

Sarah: [00:57:55] Oh, thank you so much.

Thank you so much to Susan. We love having her on the show. Beth, you've been having a lot of conversation on Instagram about reentering the job market. Lots of anxieties and questions out there in our community about that journey.

Beth: [00:58:22] Well, you say a lot that COVID has shaken things loose and I think we can see that in terms of how many people in our community are either looking to go back to work after staying at home with children or looking to change careers, or who've been laid off or otherwise lost a job and are looking to reenter the workforce in some other capacity and it is a really hard thing. And I think the main thing that I want to offer to people is, as you're thinking about this, Is that it is so important to value your own experiences and I don't mean that you like pump yourself up with Tony Robbins kind of advice, or, you know, look for a hashtag girl boss or something on Instagram and adopt that kind of persona.

I think writing a resume and a cover letter is a descriptive exercise, instead of a, an exercise where we sort of flaunt our credentials and experiences. I feel like that's the mentality that I've always heard, brought to resumes and cover letters, like you want to display all of your things, right? All of your awards and honors all of your educational achievements. You want to display them and that's true to an extent, but I think what makes for a richer resume cover letter, job application, interview is your ability to describe things.

People hate it in interviews. I know when the interviewer says, can you tell me about a time when you demonstrated resilience? Like I get that we don't like that, but that's where the questions are going because that is what is more valuable when you're looking to add someone to your team, someone who can actually describe what's going on and relate it to situations that they've been in before.

So if you've been staying at home with small children, think about how you can describe what you do every day. You probably manage a lot of inventory in your household, right? You think about where to buy stuff, you manage a budget, you're basically running an organization within your home. I think that is only thought of as a resume gap if we continue to allow it to be a gap. That is work experience, right, you are working. If you went on strike, there would be a real consequence in your household and in society and so I would just urge you to really lean into describing all the things that you do or have done in different jobs that you want to apply in a new context or whatever the case may be and I would urge my friends in HR to recognize the courage and determination of people who are willing to do that and to see what an asset that can be to the people in your organizations.

Sarah: [01:00:57] Here's what I would add. I think that people get limited in their language and cover letters and resumes. I totally agree with that. I also think people can get limited and their ideas about their network. Like I think everybody thinks they need to have a connection to like the HR department. I got so many jobs through like former interns, people who didn't even work there anymore and people who were pretty low on the totem pole, because a lot of times people, people just want to like know somebody you know, that'll say they're great.

You know, like it doesn't have to be that, you know, the CEO or, you know, the HR manager. Like it can be somebody that didn't work there for very long doesn't work there anymore or maybe, you know, was just there in a temporary capacity, vouching for you, putting like a human face on those pieces of paper that I think are so hard to break through with and so I would also encourage people to just really expand their understanding of their network and not think that you have to have a connection at the very top in order for that connection to have impact on the hiring process.

Beth: [01:02:01] I just think that's true all around. Like how can we sort of shift our expectations away from only the highest credential, the top networking connection, the highest GPA or, or, you know, certificate, whatever gets me through the door. There are a lot of different things that should get you through the door and the doors need to be made bigger all the time and so I think we have the opportunity in our audience to think on both sides of this question, how do I make the doors bigger if I'm a gatekeeper as a hiring in my organization and if I'm looking for a job, how do I really describe what I am good at and why I'm good at it? And how do I do that without apologizing for taking time to, you know, create new humans and help my family, or take care of an aging parent?

Like I just think instead of having holes in your resume, you should just describe what you've been doing during that period of time because surely if we've learned nothing else through COVID-19, it is that every human has a story and those stories are valuable and you bring so much good into the workplace. I would much rather know about your two years managing your child's physical need and all of the skills that you acquired shuffling medication and researching to understand what's going on and reaching out to experts. I would much rather hear about that. Then see a two year gap on your resume between the last time you worked and now, and have no discussion of it.

And you don't have to go into detail that is like personal and painful. You don't owe anybody that story, but I don't want you to apologize for that story and I especially don't want you to go into a job interview feeling like you will be done a favor if someone hires you after having done the most vital work in our society.

Sarah: [01:04:02] Totally agree. Thank you, everybody for joining us for another episode of Pantsuit Politics. We will be back in your ears on Tuesday and until then, keep it nuanced, y'all.

Beth: Pantsuit Politics is produced by Studio D Podcast Production.

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613 episodes