Nancy Pelosi just held her first press conference as the House speaker-to-be.
It didn't start well. Pelosi had trouble with her microphone, and she told the same story twice -- on live, national TV -- about how some schoolchildren outside the Capitol today told her that they are the future of America. She then moved into the substance of her opening remarks, which began with pretty much exactly what a lot of us heard her say on live, national TV last night.
Instant first reaction: Somebody is walking into a buzz saw, and she has absolutely no clue about what's about to hit her. When George W. Bush won reelection by a slim margin in 2004, he stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed that he had himself a mandate. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," Bush said then. "It is my style." If today's first effort is any indication, that won't be Pelosi's style as speaker of the House. Having won a stomping victory over Bush's Republican Party, Pelosi said that she's ready to begin a conversation with the president on behalf of the American people.
"It's not about the Democrats in Congress forcing the president's hand," she said. Rather, Pelosi said, Americans have sent a message with their votes: They want a new direction in Washington, and they want a new direction in Iraq. The Democrats' job, she said, is to listen to that message and to take it to the president. "It's important for us to work with the president in a bipartisan way to solve the problem, not to stay the course," she said.
To be fair, the expectations placed upon Pelosi now are enormous and impossible to meet. Reporters seemed to expect her not just to articulate a Democratic plan for Iraq but to start fixing all the problems there before dinnertime tonight. Pelosi reiterated her call for Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, saying it would signal "an openness to new, fresh ideas." She acknowledged that she had called for the redeployment of troops from Iraq, and she said that would be one of the issues that she'll be discussing with the president now.
Pelosi and Bush will meet for lunch at the White House Thursday. She said that he invited her during an early morning call today. It was a "very brief conversation," she said. "He referred to me as 'Madam Speaker-elect,' and I referred to him as 'Mr. President.'" From the way Pelosi described it, that was pretty much the extent of the thing.
What else did Pelosi say? Fox and CNN both cut away a few minutes into her press conference. George W. Bush goes before the cameras in a few minutes now. We'll be waiting to see if he gets the same sort of treatment.