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OPINION

Who’s the boss? Nancy Pelosi

She understands power and how to use it

Illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe file photo

During a contentious Oval Office meeting just a year ago, Nancy Pelosi famously warned President Trump: “Don’t characterize the strength that I bring.”

If Trump thought she was weak then — because some Democrats at the time were challenging her leadership — he knows better now. With the House under Pelosi’s command, Trump’s legacy seems destined to include the asterisk of impeachment. She’s the face of Democratic power in Washington — and the most powerful female politician in the country. How galling that must be for a man who thinks of women as objects to grab, not as players to grapple with.

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Pelosi’s clothes pack a punch — whether it’s the orange coat and sunglasses that became a meme after last December’s showdown, or the white suit of last week’s impeachment announcement. But it’s her don’t-mess-with-me attitude that has really come to define her. That was on display in the most literal way after Pelosi announced the House would draft articles of impeachment against Trump, and James Rosen, a reporter for the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group, took the opportunity to ask if she hated the president. “I don’t hate anybody. Not anybody in the world,” replied Pelosi. When Rosen pressed her again, she swept back to the podium and, with finger wagging, schooled him on motive: “This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that led to the president’s violation of his oath of office. . . . I don’t hate anyone. So don’t mess with me.”

Trump labeled this a “nervous fit.” It was anything but. Indeed, it was a lesson for young girls in what Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, the newly crowned Miss Universe, might describe as the need to “take up space" — to assert yourself with unwavering confidence while ignoring insults from men trying to demean you. That the lesson comes from Pelosi, a 79-year-old grandmother who is standing up to an old boy network that is meaner and coarser under Trump than ever before, is especially sweet.

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Other women have stared down hostile men on the Washington stage. Hillary Clinton’s 11 hours of congressional testimony about the Benghazi attacks come to mind as one example. And during the recent impeachment hearings, Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, and Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official, didn’t flinch under heavy partisan fire.

But Pelosi does that and more on a daily basis. For taking on Trump, she’s celebrated by many Americans, and denounced by many others. It takes toughness to withstand the attacks about age, appearance, and mental stability. And tough she is. Last October, when Pelosi stood up at a meeting with Trump after the House voted to condemn his decision to pull out of northern Syria, a photo of her pointing her finger at the glaring president also went viral. In a tweet, Trump called it an “unhinged meltdown”; Pelosi made it her Twitter cover photo.

 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with President Trump meets and Congressional and administration leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Oct. 16. Pelosi later said Trump referred to her as a "third-grade politician.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with President Trump meets and Congressional and administration leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Oct. 16. Pelosi later said Trump referred to her as a "third-grade politician.”The White House/White House via Getty Images

Impeachment is the ultimate Trump takedown, and there’s a lot riding on the course Pelosi has mapped out. On Monday, the House Judiciary panel heard evidence from counsel for Democrats and Republicans about the president’s conduct and why it merits impeachment — or doesn’t. Whatever happens next, the country is at this point because of Pelosi. She initially resisted impeachment, she told The Washington Post last March, because it would be “so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.” Trump, she said then, was “just not worth it.” However, she changed her mind, after news reports about Trump’s July 25 telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. “I would like you to do us a favor though,” Trump told Zelensky, laying out a scenario that called for the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine while his father was vice president.

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Standing in front of a row of American flags, Pelosi said Trump had given her no choice. He has abused his power. The strength that she brings is in her willingness to stand up for the Constitution and check it.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.