(5 of 5)
In 2001 Pelosi made her first move toward the leadership with a bid for the No. 2 job, which pitted her against Hoyer. As it happens, the two had interned in the office of Senator Daniel Brewster of Maryland in 1963. That experience also introduced Pelosi to the different opportunities that Capitol Hill offered men and women. Hoyer "worked directly for me and helped me with a number of different projects," recalled Brewster, 83, in an interview last week with Capital News Service. Pelosi was a receptionist--or, as Brewster put it, "an excellent front person."
That first whip race intensified her rivalry with Hoyer and also cemented her bond with Murtha, who managed her campaign. Not only did he get her the votes to win that job but his support also made it possible for other old bulls in the House to begin to imagine a woman rising to the top. The former Marine had a reputation for male chauvinism that stood out even in an institution where the only private rest room adjacent to the chamber is for men. (Women members have to go around the corner and through a reception area to use a facility in Pelosi's office suite.) Murtha's backing "was the answer to sexism in the place," says an aide to Pelosi. "If he didn't have any problem with a woman in leadership, no one else would either."
But Pelosi has also found a way to make her gender a weapon in political combat. She was one of the loudest voices demanding an investigation into what G.O.P. leaders knew of the sexually explicit instant messages that Congressman Mark Foley, who has since resigned, was sending to congressional pages. While Republicans booed her on the House floor, Pelosi insisted "as a mother and a grandmother" on putting the question to a recorded vote.
She won that round over the Republicans, but that victory and all the others will be forgotten unless she can regain control over her own caucus. She didn't just politely suggest that people vote for Murtha; she fought hard. Her lieutenants plied the House with phone calls and none-too-subtle threats, including suggestions that anyone who bucked her might lose committee assignments. After Hoyer still drubbed Murtha by a vote of 149-86, Pelosi emerged from the ballot room and pronounced Hoyer's win "a stunning victory." By the look on her face, she meant it. Pelosi went to Hoyer's party that night but retreated afterward to the downtown- Washington restaurant Tosca with a dozen or so of her closest allies. They entertained one another with stories about an old rivalry between Phil Burton and Texas Congressman--ultimately Speaker-- Jim Wright that had divided the Democrats decades ago. Pelosi seemed cheerful and relaxed--anything but war weary. It was a reminder of something else that is true about Capitol Hill: what really matters in a fight is whether you're standing at the end of it.