WASHINGTON — Now Nancy Pelosi will get a second chance.
After the Senate voted 74-25 Wednesday night to approve a historic $700 billion bailout of the nation's financial industry, the focus will move to the Democratic House speaker from San Francisco.
With a House vote coming as soon as Friday, she will face the toughest test of her two-year leadership tenure as she tries to convince skeptical colleagues to approve the largest financial bailout in U.S. history.
On Monday, Pelosi came under excoriating attack from Republicans, who blamed her for the House's rejection of the bailout.
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said Pelosi "poisoned" Republicans and caused many of them to "go south" when she called the bailout a response to President Bush's "failed economic policies — policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything-goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system."
Republicans have used the 68-year-old Pelosi as their whipping boy all year long, first blaming her for $4-a-gallon gasoline, now suggesting she's responsible for Congress' failure to react quickly enough to the nation's fiscal calamities.
Democrats have been busy defending their embattled leader.
"I am appalled," said Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a leading architect of the bailout. He said House GOP leaders blamed Pelosi for their troubles because they couldn't get enough rank-and-file Republicans to back the bailout.
"I think they are covering up the embarrassment of not having the votes," he said.
The dust-up began when Pelosi, who's serving her 11th term, took to the House floor just before the vote.
"When was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion?" she asked. "It is a number that is staggering."
After criticizing the Bush administration for its handling of the economy, Pelosi said Democrats believe in the free market, "but left to its own devices it has created chaos." She said Americans are facing "a crisis of historic magnitude" and that Congress has a responsibility to pass a bailout bill to avert a "catastrophic outcome."
Republican Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri said at least a dozen House Republicans decided not to support the bailout after hearing Pelosi's speech. He said Republicans were tired of getting the blame.
"Every time you'd turn on television or read an article about the press reports of what the other side was saying, it was all about how Republicans either were unpatriotic or were there too late or whatever," Blunt said.
Boehner said the House was on the verge of passing the bill.
"I do believe that we could have gotten there — had it not been for this partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," he said Monday.
Pelosi has no regrets about what she said, her spokesman said Wednesday.
"Her remarks are what she had been saying all week," said Drew Hammill, her spokesman. "Part of being able to deal with this crisis is realizing how we got here. And her speech reflected the widely held Democratic view that the Bush administration's economic policies and their failure have contributed to what we face today."
House Democratic aides noted that even some Republicans were defending Pelosi.
In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Republican Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona said he didn't know of a single Republican who switched positions after hearing Pelosi's speech.
"It was a stupid speech by her, but it didn't move any votes," he said.
Frank said Republicans were showing a "degree of pettiness and hypersensitivity" by going after Pelosi. And he said it made no sense to suggest that Republicans would decide to punish the country "because somebody hurt their feelings."
After Monday's stunning outcome, congressional leaders declined to speculate what will happen when the House votes again.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the House will be back in session Thursday and that "Democrats are continuing to work around the clock in a bipartisan way" to get the bailout passed.
"Members of the House leadership on both sides of the aisle are talking to our colleagues," he said. "And if there is bipartisan, majority support for the Senate package we will likely bring it to the floor on Friday."
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