WASHINGTON—Nancy Pelosi, who's expected to be the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, signaled Wednesday that she intends to steer a centrist course and work across party lines with President Bush to shape policy on Iraq, energy, Social Security and immigration.
Pelosi acknowledged that her party's return to the House majority after a dozen years in exile occurred largely because at least nine fairly conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats won Republican seats. The liberal-tilting House Democratic caucus must accommodate them—and the centrist voters they represent—she conceded.
"Impeachment is off the table," she declared, spiking one dream that many liberal activists cherished. "Democrats are not about getting even . . . This election is about the future, not about the Republicans."
Pelosi's great challenge is to keep her party's liberal and more conservative wings united behind achievements that win the respect of voters in the presidential election year 2008, especially the great centrist bloc that abandoned Republicans across the country Tuesday. If Democrats pursue an excessively partisan agenda over the next two years, President Bush can block them with his veto, and centrist swing voters could be repelled by Democratic partisanship just as they apparently were by Republicans this year.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who's likely to become Senate majority leader, echoed Pelosi's conciliatory tone. "We are not going to treat the Republicans like they've treated us," he said. Reid will become majority leader if Democrat James Webb's 7,000-vote lead over Republican Sen. George Allen in Virginia survives an expected recount.
Al From, the founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, said that between now and 2008, "if Democrats act as problem solvers, not polarizers, that future will be very bright."
Pelosi, a 66-year-old San Francisco liberal who'll be the first female House speaker in history, used her first post-election news conference to quell speculation about how she intends to govern her fractious caucus.
Even as she pledged bipartisanship however, she challenged Bush to "signal an openness to new, fresh ideas," especially on Iraq, by dumping Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a move that, as it turned out, the president announced an hour later.
Pelosi also reiterated the Democrats' consensus agenda for the 110th Congress, which convenes in January:
_Raising the minimum wage.
_Repealing oil company subsidies.
_Expanding stem cell research.
_Allowing the federal government to negotiate lower prices from pharmaceutical companies for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
_Reducing college loan rates.
_Tightening lobbying restrictions.
_Adopting the 9-11 commission's anti-terrorism recommendations.
Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., the chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee, who narrowly survived a stiff re-election challenge, said that while he was willing to work with Democrats in theory, "I never saw many opportunities to count Democratic votes that wanted to come in partnership with us." He predicted that Democrats would try to raise taxes and Republicans would fight such efforts and quickly regain a majority.
"We're going to take a two-year hiatus," Reynolds said.
"She has to figure out how to tear down a wall that exists between the Republican and Democratic parties," said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla. "That's the failure of the Republican Party in the last 12 years . . . They've really tried to govern and had their speaker try to be a speaker of the Republican Party and not the whole House and not for all Americans. And you see what's happening."
Scott Lilly, a veteran House Democratic staffer who's now at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research center, said House Democrats must resist the impulse to pursue big ambitions such as a comprehensive health-care plan or an education overhaul.
"There's an appetite for major health-care reform, in doing something substantial in elementary and secondary education," he said. "That's not going to happen. The president would veto a number of those things."
Pat Toomey, the president for the Club for Growth, a pro-business conservative group, predicts that Pelosi "is going to find it hard to hold that caucus together. It is an ideologically very diverse caucus and the extremes are very, very far apart. I think she's gonna find she's got a tough job ahead."
Pelosi, who's now the House Democratic leader, and Reid, who's now Senate minority leader, are expected to win the top leadership posts in caucus elections next week.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHICS (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): PELOSI
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