Pelosi’s political skills are going to be sorely tested in the days ahead, having to balance the competing priorities of her Democratic caucus and facing the political Vesuvius that is President Trump Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/© Gulf News

When Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as Speaker of the US House on Thursday, she became not just the third most powerful US politician but also the leader of the Trump opposition. Both loved and loathed, her comeback story is an extraordinary tale of political survival.

After eight years in the political wilderness, she is back on top.

In 2007, the California Democrat made history as the first female speaker of the US House of Representatives, but it was short-lived.

This time, she’s at the helm of a resurgent party with responsibility for initiating new laws through the lower chamber of Congress, not to mention guiding a slew of new investigations into the president.

And she’s done so despite being written off multiple times and labelled a pedestrian public speaker prone to the occasional gaffe, having high disapproval ratings and becoming a lightning rod for Republicans.

Now, with her return to the speaker’s chair, Pelosi again becomes the most powerful woman in US politics.

It caps a remarkable journey for someone who grew up as the youngest child in a family steeped in East Coast big-city politics, made a political name for herself in the most liberal corners of California and has dominated Democratic politics for nearly a decade and a half.

Her political skills are going to be sorely tested in the days ahead, having to balance the competing priorities of her Democratic caucus and facing incoming flames from the political Vesuvius that is Donald Trump.

The public had a taste of such confrontations in December, when the two argued in the Oval Office about border wall funding. She emerged from that duel with Democrats singing her praises but for many on the left such fireworks should only be the beginning.

It’s a recipe for intra-party conflict and indicates the treacherous path ahead for her to navigate.

She grew up in a political family, one of seven children in the gritty East Coast city of Baltimore, Maryland, where her father — Thomas “Big Tommy” D’Alesandro Jr — was mayor. She was the youngest and the only girl.

To be a politician in Baltimore meant succeeding at old-school Democratic machine politics. Keeping track of favours received and favours given. Knowing whom to help and whom to hurt — and how to do both.

She went to college in Washington where she met and married financier Paul Pelosi. They moved to Manhattan and then San Francisco, where Pelosi started as a housewife. She had five children — four daughters and a son — in the space of six years.

In 1976 she became involved in politics, using her old family connections to help then-California Governor Jerry Brown, running for president, win the Maryland primary.

She rose through the state’s Democratic Party ranks, eventually becoming its chair. In 1988 — at the urging of the outgoing Democrat — she ran for a seat in Congress and won.

She was one of the highest-profile, most outspoken opponents of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in 2005 successfully helped block President George W Bush’s call for partial privatisation of the government-run Social Security retirement programme.

When the Democrats won the majority in 2006 for the first time in 12 years, her legislative acumen had been established and her stand on the war — at least in the minds of Democrats — was vindicated. She became the clear choice for Speaker of the House and was elected by her party in a unanimous vote.

Bright future

In January 2007 the Californian made history as the first female speaker of the US House of Representatives.

But four years later, Democrats lost control of the lower chamber of Congress.

Speaker of the House is the one congressional job detailed in the US Constitution. It is second in line for the presidency, behind only the vice-president, although such an ascent would require an unlikely set of circumstances in which both offices were vacated. Unlike the Senate, the majority party in the House — led by the speaker — has virtually unfettered control over the legislative process.

There are times in politics where the image matches the moment. Such was the case on December 11, when Pelosi walked to the White House in a bright red coat, slipped on her sunglasses and addressed the gathered reporters. Her future, which had seemed uncertain even months earlier, was once again bright.

She, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, had just finished a remarkable televised Oval Office sparring match with President Trump over border security and the impending government funding crisis. When Trump implied she was not popular in her party, she shot back.

“Mr President, please don’t characterise the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.”

And President Trump will know exactly what that means in the coming months …

— Compiled from agencies