The Baker Institute’s Doré Commons was packed to the last row and an overflow crowd gathered in the adjacent Kelly International Conference Facility March 18 when U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., took to the podium. Many had come to hear the first female speaker of the House of Representatives speak, including Rice University President David Leebron.
Pelosi, introduced as “one of the most effective members of Congress of our time” by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, the institute’s namesake and honorary chair, fielded questions from moderator and Baker Institute Founding Director Edward Djerejian. Pelosi touched on a wide range of issues, including immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act and foreign policy, but her main topic was both political and personal – women’s priorities.
Pelosi said the biggest challenges facing women are economic concerns – equal pay, workplace advancement and child care. “In talking to women and listening to women … whatever matters to their children is what matters to women. It’s about their health, their education, their economic security.”
Pelosi said a career in politics had never crossed her mind when raising five children in California. But one thing led to another after she first became involved in public service as a member of the San Francisco Library Commission. Her advice to women seeking careers in public service was simple: “When opportunity knocks, be ready.”
Asked by Djerejian about the potential for more bipartisanship and compromise in Congress after last year’s government shutdown, Pelosi expressed her belief in the power of the public to spur progress.
“You have to be optimistic, you have to view every situation fresh and new and what are the opportunities it presents and what is the public understanding of it. President Lincoln said public sentiment is everything,” she said. “The moment Democrats and Republicans realized the public was widely opposed to the government shutdown last fall, action to find compromise was taken.”
Djerejian said Pelosi’s acceptance of the invitation to speak at Rice University’s Baker Institute was “very much appreciated and demonstrated the Baker Institute’s commitment to be a nonpartisan forum for public policy discussion and debate.”