WASHINGTON, DC—Newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–CA) accused her fellow House Democrats of "just mouthing support" for a bill she introduced that is expected to pass overwhelmingly when the incoming 110th Congress convenes next year.
"You shouldn't just pass it because I want it, but because you want it, too," said Pelosi of the bill, which would reduce interest rates on federally funded college loans. "I'm really disappointed you're not as excited as I am about this bill. It says a lot. It really says a lot."
Rep. Jerry Costello (D–IL), a vocal advocate of the bill, expressed confusion over Pelosi's reaction to his support.
"I don't understand what Speaker Pelosi expects from us, though I don't dare say that to her," Costello said. "I've been trying to be extra nice to her lately after she told me that my voting record on Medicare and prescription-drug issues has been 'distant' lately. 'Distant?' What does that even mean?"
Pelosi said that her doubts about the reception toward her bill stem from a general fear that Capitol Hill politicians were "only going through the motions lately" and "merely placating me to keep me quiet." She also expressed concern that her relationship to the House was based completely on voting.
"I want to be part of a Congress that doesn't pass legislation just to pass it, but because it really, truly believes in it," Pelosi said. "I don't care if we don't get a single bill out of committee the whole time I'm Speaker—just as long as we're open and honest about where we're at."
"I'm a pretty good judge of congressional character, you know," Pelosi added. "I can tell when a legislative body is hiding something."
Signs of Pelosi's second-guessing began to show in September, after she first proposed the bill on the House floor. When Rep. Edward Markey (D–MA) called the bill a "good, common-sense measure," Pelosi requested additional floor time to start her address over from the beginning, on the grounds that "the members present had obviously not paid attention to a single word." While delivering the address a second time, she paused midway to request that Rep. Bill Shuster (R–PA) repeat what she just said.
"I remember once on the phone, when she called me trying to gather support for the bill, she got mad when I said, 'Sure, I'll vote for it,'" Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D–MD) said. "She said, 'That's all you can say, "Sure?" When you know how important this is to me?' I told her I was on board with whatever she wanted and then she just made this exasperated groan and hung up."
"At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if we never saw this bill again," Van Hollen added.
Not content with the status quo, Pelosi told her fellow Democrats that "there's going to be a lot of changes in the way we communicate" after the Congressional recess. According to Pelosi, deliberations on the House floor will be based on "total candor" about "what Congress is really feeling about individual pieces of legislation, the motives behind the voting, and the tone of the discussion." If she feels the talks have failed, Pelosi plans to alert the 434 other representatives of her displeasure by doing nothing for several weeks and then bursting into tears in the middle of House debates on agricultural subsidies.
"Sometimes I wish I'd never gotten involved with a Congress like this at all," Pelosi said. "It's not just this one bill, it's their whole attitude about everything. I can't help but think that I'd be better off all alone in this hallowed chamber."
While House Democrats said they look forward to working with the first female House Speaker, in private they expressed reservations about whether she will be able to make the transition to the new position. Several representatives cited an outburst on the House floor in October during which Pelosi told the governing body that if they didn't know what was on the weekly legislative agenda, then she certainly wasn't going to tell them.