WASHINGTON – On her 100th day as speaker of the 117th Congress, Nancy Pelosi discussed the dramatic events that opened her tenure, when a mob that stormed the Capitol wanted to kill her.
“That’s what they were setting out to do,” she told USA TODAY, if her security agents hadn’t managed to evacuate her from the House chamber in time. Asked if that frightened her, she replied, “Well, I’m pretty tough. I’m a street fighter. They would have had a battle on their hands.”
Besides, she said with a laugh, lifting a foot clad in her classic 4-inch-high stilettos, “I would have had these” to use as weapons.
In a wide-ranging interview, Pelosi described a historic start for the new Congress and President Joe Biden, one “on par” in ambition and impact with the first 100 days of FDR and LBJ. She called Biden skilled in Washington politics and bolder in policy than many expected. “Transformative and visionary and experienced,” she said.
But the Jan. 6 assault continues to cast a shadow.
Will there be a 9/11-style panel for Capitol riot?
She said she would soon introduce legislation to harden the Capitol’s security, indicating she would support the installation of retractable fencing to be deployed only when security threats demanded. She also suggested for the first time that she might move to establish a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection if efforts to create a special 9/11-style commission failed.
“The one thing among our members that is consistent is – we must find the truth,” she said. While she has pushed for creation of an independent panel, she said that goal could also be reached through investigations by the standing committees of Congress, some now underway, or by a select committee.
She compared the prospective select committee to the controversial one established by a Republican majority to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“It’s always an option,” she said. “It’s not my preference in any way. My preference would be to have a commission.” But that proposal has been stalled in partisan disputes over the scope and structure of the panel.
Congress has yet to act on the sweeping security recommendations delivered last month by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré. His report calls for filling more than 200 vacancies in the Capitol Police force, adding another 854 more positions to address an evolving threat to lawmakers and staff, and integrating “systems of obstacles, cameras, sensors and alarms.”
More:Lt. Gen. Honoré’s Capitol attack report recommends more police, better coordination with National Guard
Three hours before the interview, Pelosi had spoken at a ceremony honoring slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer William F. “Billy” Evans, calling him “a martyr for our democracy.” He lay in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, steps away from her office.
Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force that protects Congress, died April 2 when a 25-year-old man rammed his vehicle into a barricade shielding Capitol’s north side. That was less than three months after hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, leaving one officer dead and more than 130 others injured.
Pelosi: I’ll ‘never forgive’ trauma caused by rioters
When Pelosi talked about the Jan. 6 assault, her voice became lower and more intense.
“I was never personally afraid because I had so much security for myself,” she said. “I was afraid for everybody else, and I’ll never forgive them the trauma that they caused to the staff and the members.”
Many are still dealing with the aftereffects, she said. “I do think it will have an impact on how people decide to come to work here or stay to work here and the rest.”
Asked about the first 100 days of what is expected to be her last term as speaker, she rattled off priorities the House already has passed, though most are now stalled in the Senate. They include an anti-corruption and ethics bill. A criminal justice bill named for George Floyd; the police officer who killed him is now on trial in Minneapolis. An immigration measure to provide a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” young people brought to this country illegally as children.
“The point is we have more than a vision – a vision with specifics,” she said. “And we’re hoping that the Senate will be able to follow through on some of them, all of them I would hope.”
She said she hasn’t been surprised by the willingness of Biden, who campaigned as a centrist, to pursue a bold agenda once in office. “Understand that nothing really surprises me,” she said, but acknowledged that it was unexpected by some. “I think he is meeting the needs of the American people, and if people want to call that progressive? Hallelujah, that’s a good thing.”
With passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and the approaching debate over a $2.3 trillion stimulus bill, she said, “I feel like I had landed in the promised land of legislation.”