With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, it is not an easy time to be a Democratic leader, let alone a liberal Democrat from San Francisco. But Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking woman in congressional history, remains remarkably confident that her Democrats will prevail. It will be her job to try to bring the party back into power, and for the moment, she has her work cut out for her. NBC correspondent Jamie Gangel reports.
Most politicians are good at staying on message, but with Nancy Pelosi, it is nothing short of an art form. At 64, she is indefatigable, and not likely to let a little thing like a Republican victory slow her down.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif: Challenge and opportunity to her are the same words. She's an absolutely amazing person.
In short, her colleagues say Pelosi is tough as nails, and knows how to instill loyalty.
Rep. Charlie Rangel: I think we're on the brink of all of us congressmen being able to say, listen to Nancy Pelosi and you don't have to bother with me.
While Pelosi rarely talks about it, she was raised in politics.
Pelosi: Every day was a campaign. There was never an election that we weren't involved in.
Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, won his first race at 21. He went on to become a five term Maryland congressman, and the powerful mayor of Baltimore. By the age of seven, little Nancy was already doing constituent services from the family living room.
Pelosi: I knew how to answer the phone and tell people how to get a hospital bed, or who to call to go into a project.
Gangel: When you were a child?
Pelosi: When I was a child. It did seem normal to us that helping people was what we were there to do.
Gangel: Did you ever think you would grow up and run for elected office?
Pelosi: I never thought of it. I was raised in a family of all boys, and with being the baby girl, there was pretty protective attitude toward me. Politics is rough; it's a tough business.
Despite that, her mother, an early feminist, taught Pelosi she could grow up to do anything. And Pelosi learned some valuable political lessons just watching her father.
Pelosi: You have to work hard. And you also have to know the numbers. You have to know how you can win an election.
Gangel: You learned how to count votes from him?
Pelosi: I learned how to count votes. Going into an election, they'd sit around the table with these yellow legal pads. They'd say, "How many votes does it take to win?” It's still the same thing.
By the time she was a teenager Pelosi was also savvy enough to know just who to sit next to.
Gangel: There is a picture of you that I saw, which I have to admit I thought was Audrey Hepburn and John F. Kennedy.
Pelosi: I was in high school and Sen. Kennedy was coming to Baltimore to speak. I was seated at the head table next to him. There was a table of young people, and they came over and they said, "We'd love for you to join us at our table for dinner."
Gangel: Let me guess. You didn't go.
Pelosi: I was really torn. But I thought that perhaps I can do that another time.
A relative late-comer to elected office, Pelosi first married successful California businessman Paul Pelosi, then raised a family of five. When she was 46 she asked her children what they thought of her running for office.
Pelosi: I asked Alexandra, who was going to be a senior in high school, and she and her siblings said to me, "Mother, get a life."
It was a tough race, but she won, and in 1987 her parents watched as she was sworn in.
Paul Pelosi: Oh it was fabulous. Her father was so impressed that she would go 3,000 miles away.
Gangel: Without his name.
Paul Pelosi: Without his name.
Gangel: What's it like being married to the minority leader?
Paul Pelosi: What's it like?
Pelosi: I'm interested in hearing this answer myself.
Paul Pelosi: It's an extremely demanding job. So it hasn't been a lot of laughs.
Gangel: Honest. An honest man.
Paul Pelosi: But, nonetheless Capitol Hill is still very much a male oriented old boys club. So, for her to have risen to be the leader that of the party is a rather phenomenal accomplishment.
Pelosi: A tribute to my colleagues and their spirit of equality.
Gangel: What's the hardest part of your job?
Pelosi: Being in the minority.
Gangel: You don't like that.
Pelosi: I don't like that at all. (Laughs) I don't like it at all.
Gangel: Do you think the Democrats are out of touch with what Americans want?
Pelosi: No, I don't. I think Democrats are exactly in touch.
Gangel: So if you're not out of touch, why did you lose?
Pelosi: We may have to communicate our message better, if that's what you mean by out of touch. But I know that the agenda of the Democrats is the agenda of the American people.
Gangel: If you could have one political wish come true for your career, what would it be?
Pelosi: I'd want the Democrats in the House of Representatives to be the majority. And then my colleagues would elect me speaker of the House. I would become the first woman speaker. That certainly would be very exciting.