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Defiant Pelosi says she’s staying: ‘I can take the heat’

WASHINGTON — Nancy Pelosi is the chief villain of Republican campaign ads. The leader some Democrats promise to vote against. The subject of much speculation that her grip on power is coming to an end.

Nevertheless, she says she’s not going anywhere — and certainly not while President Trump is in the White House.

‘‘This is not anything to make a big fuss over, it’s politics,’’ Pelosi said in a 35-minute phone interview with the Associated Press. ‘‘I can take the heat, and that’s why I stay in the kitchen.’’

Pushing back on those who say her leadership position is in jeopardy, Pelosi all but dared her doubters to envision any other House Democrat sitting across the table to negotiate with Trump.

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‘‘I have a following in the country that’s unsurpassed by anybody, unless they’re running for president,’’ Pelosi said.

Trump and the Republicans are eager to see her go, she said, ‘‘and I’m just not going to let them do that.’’

With Democrats bullish about winning back the House majority, Pelosi is already beginning to lay out a detailed early-days agenda that could be set in motion come January. Beyond cleaning up corruption, lowering health care costs and providing bigger paychecks, Pelosi told the Associated Press that the Democrats would push forward legislation on background checks for gun purchases and legal status for young immigrants brought to this country illegally, often referred to as ‘‘Dreamers.’’

‘‘We’re ready,’’ she said.

Yet Pelosi’s return to the speakership, if Democrats triumph, is far from assured.

Dozens of Democrats — candidates and a few lawmakers — are saying they may not back her, creating an unprecedented groundswell for new leadership.

‘‘I think we’re in different territory now,’’ said Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who won about one-third of the Democrats during a private caucus vote when he mounted a symbolic challenge against Pelosi two years ago. ‘‘It’s time to turn the page.’’

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But Pelosi has faced uprisings from the ranks before, most notably after Democrats lost control of the House after the tea party Republican wave of 2010. Anyone who is counting her out — and many are trying to show her to the exits— may be underestimating her staying power.

‘‘It’s immodest of me to say, but I say to women now, ‘Just go for it.’ Tell them why you think you’re the best person to do this job,’’ she said. ‘‘I want to be an example to them, just to say, ‘Don’t run away from a fight.’ If you think you’re the one that should be there, you make the fight.’’

It’s not that other Democrats haven’t tried to replace her. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, has long coveted the top job, waiting out Pelosi for his moment to hold the gavel. He has been promoting himself to colleagues as a ‘‘bridge’’ to the next generation of leadership.

Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina let it be known recently that he, too, is willing to take the helm if Pelosi falls short. That prospect is appealing to many Democrats, as he would be the first African-American speaker.

And younger lawmakers, including the 45-year-old Ryan, have not shut the door on running. Some say it’s time for a clean sweep, and that replacing 78-year-old Pelosi with 79-year-old Hoyer or 78-year-old Clyburn is not the generational change that the Democratic caucus wants.

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