Offered as bonus material for the "We the People" collection, this full interview features Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, (D) California. The "We the People" videos are produced in collaboration with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.
Bonus Material -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Full Interview)
Speaker NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Hello. I'm Nancy Pelosi. I'm the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That means in the Constitution, it's the president, the vice president, and then the Speaker of the House is the third highest official in the land.
Speaker of the House is in charge of the House of Representatives. In the Constitution, the first branch of government is Article I, the legislative branch, which will be composed of a House and the Senate. The leader of the House is called the "Speaker of the House," and that is a Constitutional officer who has a right of succession to the president.
As a representative of my own congressional district in San Francisco, I can say that being a representative from my district is the highest of honors in Congress. Any other honor that our colleagues in the House may bestow on us are a wonderful complement and a great opportunity, but nothing is more of a privilege than the constituents of your district saying, "You speak for me on the floor of the House of Representatives."
The people of my district are my bosses as their representative. My members of the House are my bosses, as the constituents of the Speaker.
The job title for a member of Congress is "representative." It is also a job description. You're representative of the views of your district. In order to represent their views, it's important to know your district, to listen to the concerns of people so that you can represent their point of view. Sometimes, as their representative in Congress, you have to bring home some decisions to share with them that are maybe not be so popular at home, but are good for the nation. And so that is-- takes some courage to do.
The Founders, in writing the Constitution, understood they did not want a monarch. They wanted a system of checks and balances, so hence, the first branch, Article I, is the legislative branch for a reason.
In the Constitution, again, the legislative branch is Article I. Article I gives the Congress the power of the purse. It gives the Congress the power to declare war, and it lists, enumerates man other powers in the text of the Constitution.
Next is the executive branch, next the judicial, the Supreme Court and other courts of the land. So, the-- I think that every single day, the system of checks and balances is weighing in, one branch or another.
But the main role is to be a check and balance on the other branches of government. The beauty of the Constitution is that it has three co-equal branches of government, a separation of powers, each a check on each other. So, inherent in the role of Congress and the House of Representatives is the responsibility to hold accountable the other branches of government, to have oversight over how the executive branch, that would be the president, implements the will of Congress and legislation that we had passed.
The Congress of the United States works its will by legislation passing the House, passing the Senate, going to the president for his signature. If the president does not sign, or that vetoes, the bill, then by two thirds vote in each house, the Congress can stop that action of the president. Sometimes, by dint of public opinion, we can speak so clearly about our point of view that the president may not sign a bill because he doesn't like it. And if it sits still there for ten days, it becomes law without his signature. So, by dint of our votes in the Congress, and by dint of our persuasion in the public, we can hold the president accountable.
The beauty of the Constitution is the system of checks and balances, to make sure we don't have a dictatorship or a monarchy without-- because we're a democracy. But a democracy is marked by freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press. And I do think that freedom of the press is probably the most important guardian of our democracy of all. Whether you agree with how the press writes about you or not, the fact that they are-- hold people accountable is very central. So young people should care about those freedoms, because they are the protections of our democracy, that people can speak freely, gather in groups around an issue, the press can report on it. That is the essence of a democracy.
Young people, I think have a-- in my view, because now I'm a grandmother of-- I have elementary, middle school, high school, and college-- grandchildren. I have every stage of it. But in talking to middle school kids, they-- we have a lot to learn from them, because they have serious questions of accountability. "How come people are not taking better care of the environment? How come we can't be safe in our schools? How come our teachers are not paid sufficiently for the important job of teaching us that they have? How come we're not respecting the dignity and worth of people in terms of human rights around the world and the wellbeing of children around the—" children have a sympathy for children. And children also have a concern about the future of our planet and the future that they will live in. So, they have to just look inwardly and know why, just know why they might want to be involved. And then they can think about an issue, read about it, learn about it, so they know what-- they know how to talk about what they care about. And then they can make a plan on how they can involve other people in doing it. And if you have a purpose and knowledge and a plan, you will involve other people and they will see their own leadership qualities emerge. And that's what it's about, leadership.
Well I do believe that civic engagement is very important. Now when I was young, many years ago, civics was a requirement. You were mandated to take civics classes and to learn about how our Constitution, which is the most beautiful constitution in the world forevermore, learn about the workings of Congress and State legislatures and your own city governments, and how that had an impact on your life and that was important. So as time went by, it became an elective. So, kids didn't have to really learn that, so they knew less about the importance of civics and civic engagement. And I think it's-- I think we should-- clearly some of the actions taken by some in elective office indicate to me that we need more people paying more serious attention, informed attention, and that means understanding the civics of our nation. And that's why I would encourage young people to be more seriously engaged in that way, and encourage clubs, even in school organizations that give them the fundamentals, so that maybe one day they may want to take the responsibility to promote a cause, to support a candidate, or to run for office themselves.
Well, attitude is what is important. Our attitude is we are the People's House, the House of Representatives. And we are therefore responsible to have an open process. As Speaker, I want this to be a transparent, open process where people can see what is being debated very clearly, and with enough notice so they know how they are affected, so openness. Bipartisanship, wherever we can, to strive to find our common ground, where we can. Where we can't, we have to stand our ground, but to try to strive for that-- to strive for that. And third, remembering the guidance of our founders. E pluribus unum, from many, one. They didn't know how many we would become or how different we'd be from each other, but they knew we had to strive for oneness, to remember always, despite our differences, we are one country, indivisible, one nation under God. Indivisible.