House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued an urgent warning Monday about threats to democracy posed by GOP leaders and urged moderate Republicans to retake the party and return to an earlier era of bipartisan rule.
At Senator Barbara Boxer’s annual address at UC Berkeley, Pelosi barely mentioned former US President Donald Trump by name, but fiercely criticized the Republican leader and other members of the rising right-wing movement. They have eroded voting rights and undermined the nation’s shared democratic values, Pelosi said, with a policy he described as authoritarian and autocratic.
“I hope there are some Republicans here, so I can tell them: take back your party. The country needs a strong Republican Party, not one that has been hijacked like a cult,” he told the audience. “It’s not about partisanship,” she added, “…it’s about patriotism for our country, to ensure that people running for office are there to protect our democracy.”
The Boxer annual conference was first held in 2017 and focuses on women in leadership. It is sponsored by the UC Berkeley Institute for Government Studies and the Bancroft Library.
Pelosi linked efforts to defend American democracy to the growing challenges facing democratic countries around the world, including Ukraine, which is fending off an unprovoked Russian attack.
“The people of Ukraine are fighting for their democracy,” he said, “but in their fight they are fighting for everyone’s democracy. It is a fight against autocracy, and we all owe them a lot. While they fight that war, we have to fight it here, and of course elections are one way to do that.”
The Boxer Conference, first held in 2017, focuses on women in leadership. The annual event is sponsored by the UC Berkeley Institute for Government Studies and the Bancroft Library.
Boxer served 10 years in the US House and 24 years in the Senate before retiring in 2017, building a strong record as an advocate for children, families, voting rights and the environment.
Pelosi is one of the most powerful and influential women, if not the most powerful, in American political history. In nearly 35 years representing San Francisco in the US House of Representatives, she has been the leader of the House Democratic Party for 19 years, serving as speaker from 2007 to 2011 and again since 2019, while serving as leader of the minority in the intervening years. when Democrats were in the minority. She was the first woman in history to hold those leadership positions.
Introducing the speakers, Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ detailed their landmark achievements over the decades. “There are no better examples of the transformative power of women in leadership than Speaker of the House Pelosi and the Honorable Senator Barbara Boxer,” Ella Christ said. An admiring audience of about 500 people at Hertz Hall included US Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and University of California Regent John Perez.
Leaning on the edge of her chair, animated and often gesticulating vigorously, Pelosi described her childhood, her close relationship with Boxer, her past positive working relationships with Republican lawmakers and the recent erosion of American democracy. She was passionate, forceful and funny at the same time.
An assault on democracy, instigated by the former president
He gave a detailed account of how a right-wing mob stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and tried to block Trump’s peaceful transfer of power to Democratic rival Joe Biden.
“I’m telling you,” Pelosi said, “this had everything wrong with it: it had racism, it had sexism, it had anti-Semitism… The things they were saying, the things they were doing, again, the attack was on our democracy, instigated by the president of the USA”.
Once members of Congress were taken to safety, they worked to determine next steps. Despite some suggestions that Congress postpone final certification of the election, Pelosi and others pushed to complete the process without delay.
“Here’s the question I have that I think not enough people think about,” Boxer said. “A miracle happened, because he made sure that the certification of the presidential election continued. … It’s my theory that if you hadn’t done that, I don’t know where we would be today.
“This saved democracy.”
Pelosi credited other members of Congress for being “very brave” in deciding to complete the certification after the insurgency was quelled. But even then, he pointed out, a substantial bloc of Republicans (eight senators and 139 representatives) voted to reject the election results.
“That was heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s one thing for gangs, whatever you want to call them, to come in there, instigated by the president of the United States. It is another thing for members of Congress to vote against the peaceful transfer of power.”
Making the political process ‘healthier for our country’
During the 50-minute interview, Pelosi addressed other topics:
The role of the media in a democracy. “One of the things the occasional former occupant of the White House would do is undermine press freedom. In my opinion, press freedom is the guardian of our democracy,” Pelosi said, but Trump and others worked “to undermine the credibility of the press and undermine the credibility of government institutions.
“He was really very smart, he was very authoritarian, autocratic. But it was a plan and they went that route and have had some level of success in undermining the collective consciousness of our country, that we all agree that certain things are right.”
Legislation on the right to vote pending in Congress. A landmark measure to protect and extend voting rights has enough votes to pass the House, but does not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Pelosi suggested that it is essential.
“He is a protector of our democracy,” he said. “This is about stopping voter suppression and nullifying elections.” Furthermore, he explained, it would end the partisan process of drawing electoral districts. “That may or may not help us win more Democratic seats,” he said, “but it will make the process healthier for our country.”
Opportunities for women in politics. Pelosi described her early work as a grassroots political organizer, not expecting to run for office or rise to national leadership. “And then the opportunity came,” she said. “So I say to the women here: You never know when the opportunity might present itself. Get ready, get ready, take stock of yourself… have confidence in who you are.”
Pelosi admitted that she had limited hope that today’s Republican Party could change course and return to a more conventional bipartisan role in American political life. He has been told by some moderate Republicans that they cannot defeat more extreme Republican candidates in the primaries, and that Democrats will have to prevail if extremism is to be defeated and Republican moderates can return to power.
“We don’t place ourselves in the category of people like our founders or Lincoln, but we do recognize the urgency of the assault on our democracy now,” Pelosi said. Still, he offered a note of optimism: Change is possible, he said, “because I believe in the American people and their goodness … and the beauty of the diversity of the American people.”