WASHINGTON — When Nancy Pelosi was House speaker in 2008, she called then-President George W. Bush “a total failure.” But these days, the woman who is expected to be re-elected Thursday as speaker, acknowledges some nostalgia about dealing with the former GOP president.
Pelosi said she and Bush “had our differences of opinion, especially on the war in Iraq, but we had many areas of agreement and we were able to work together in respectful ways. (I had) respect for him and the job he held and he of Congress and our responsibilities," she told USA TODAY in an interview last month.
Pelosi is already battling a new Republican president, Donald Trump, over the budget and spending for his proposed border wall. She said there is "no question" that as speaker, her dealings with Trump will be different from her clashes with Bush.
“What I would say about this president is that it’s different from President Obama and different from President Bush, because with both of them, we started with a stipulation of fact,” Pelosi said. “With (Trump) we have to have a little more clarity about what the facts are.”
She pointed to a meeting on the budget standoff in the Oval Office in early December with the president and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that played out before television cameras. Trump, who has demanded money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, frequently consulted a piece of paper with statistics, some of which had no evidence to support them.
“The president was putting forth figures that had no basis in fact,” Pelosi said, adding that was why she had urged the president to talk away from the glare of cameras. “I didn't want to be contradicting him on TV." (The trio would fail to come to a compromise and the government shut down later that month.)
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Pelosi is the only woman to ever to have held the post of House speaker hold the post. And she will be one of just a handful of people who have won multiple terms as speaker.
In an April 2017 interview on ABC's “This Week,” Pelosi accidentally referred to Bush when she intended to mention Trump. She quickly caught herself before putting her hand over her heart.
“I'm so sorry, President Bush. I never thought I'd pray for the day that you were president again.”
However, her warm regard for Bush would seem out of place a decade ago.
"You know, God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States, a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject," Pelosi said on CNN in 2008.
She said in 2009 that the Bush administration misled Americans "about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
Bush administration officials frequently criticized Pelosi over what they said was an inability to move critical legislation.
And yet, Bush and Pelosi had a connection that predated her tenure as speaker. Her daughter, Alexandra, spent the 2000 presidential campaign covering Bush and then made a documentary called “Journeys with George.”
The day after Democrats took back the House in the November 2018 election, Pelosi brought up the last time Democrats had the House under a Republican president. She said she and President George W. Bush worked together “very productively.” Pelosi pointed out that despite divided government Bush signed bills sent over from the Democratic-led House that dealt with energy, taxes and AIDS relief.
In a vote that was difficult for many lawmakers, Pelosi brought her caucus together to support Bush on bailing out the banks during the 2008 financial crisis. Democrats at the time wanted nothing to do with Bush, whose Gallup approval rating was 25 percent a month from Election Day.
When the economy teetered on collapse in 2008, she was “very constructive” in getting Democrats to back a $700-billion bailout of the U.S. financial system, even as she simultaneously battled with the White House on funding for the Iraq war, said Dan Meyer, Bush’s liaison between the White House and Congress when Pelosi was speaker the first time.
Meyer sat in a meeting with Pelosi and other congressional leaders as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described a “cataclysmic and very scary” future if the bipartisan leaders didn’t back their plan to bail out the banks. Pelosi promised to consult with her team, Meyer said.
Pelosi quickly convened a conference call with her caucus and Bernanke and Paulsen so members could ask questions.
“Nobody wanted to do it and no Democrat was particularly eager to help President Bush, but Pelosi knew that this was existential for the country,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., a chief deputy whip who was first elected in 2006. “So what Pelosi did then, as she’s done on other issues, is she creates space for the caucus to participate with their different points of view on the question before us: are we going to act? What happens in that process when she creates space is that it ultimately creates a sense of collective responsibility.”
The bill failed on a Monday and passed the House on Friday 263 to 171.
“Sometimes you have a responsibility to govern and sometimes you have a responsibility to message for your team and she can do both and has done both,” said Meyer.
Assuming Pelosi wins the speakership as expected on Thursday she will almost immediately face pressure from some Democrats to impeach the president.
“People wanted me to impeach President Bush because of the war in Iraq, by sending us into a war based on something that wasn't factual. But I didn't think that the toll that it would take on the country was worth going through the exercise,” she told USA TODAY.
When Democrats took back the House in 2006, Pelosi vowed that impeachment was “off the table” despite Democrats' fury over the Iraq war.
Pelosi has not taken impeachment of Trump off the table but has been cautioning her caucus to wait for the facts. “The facts will indicate a path,” she told USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In Trump era, Nancy Pelosi admits to nostalgia about George W. Bush. Here's why