This article is part of The Sunday Review’s biweekly politics newsletter. Subscribe by clicking here.

Nancy Pelosi’s career as Democratic House leader is full of moments when she made a difference in history ― sometimes in front of the cameras, sometimes behind closed doors. One of the most important was the debate about the Affordable Care ActIt was at one of many junctures where its survival was in question.

It took place in January 2010, after Democrats lost a special elections in Massachusetts which left them without the 60th voter they needed to override a Republican filibuster within the U.S. Senate. The health care bill was passed after nearly a year. Democrats were already very unpopular at that point. There were several high-profile Democrats including members of Pelosi’s caucus, wanted to cut their losses, either by passing something a lot less ambitious or giving up altogether.

Pelosi It was not working for her. She met individually with members either in small groups or one-on-one to gain a better understanding of their doubts and make sure they didn’t defect publicly. She listened patiently to skittish members at one caucus meeting. He urged them to stop believing what they were now. “suicide mission.” Then Pelosi took her turn at the microphone, describing the Democrats’ predicament as a test of their resolve ― and, even more importantly, their chance to carry on a crusade that dated back to Franklin Roosevelt’s day.

“I just felt like the momentum was heading in the direction of surrender,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., was then a relative junior member. They were still with me many years later. “Pelosi just did not allow it to happen. By sheer will, she turned that room around. People like me, I still wanted to do it but I don’t know that I had the confidence to stand up to this tidal wave. She breathed confidence into everybody in that room who wanted to stay the course.”

At that point, Pelosi It was believed that she was 20-30 votes or even 40 short depending on who you believe. Washington political observers and operators expressed open doubt that she would be able to rebuild a majority. But she did. She did. “Obamacare” It has remained unpopular over the years and may have been enough to deny Democrats their House majority in 2010. Backlash Democrat control of the House was restored to them by Republican repeal efforts in 2018.

It was a great help along the way 20 million people To obtain health insurance and to enshrine legal protections for those with preexisting conditions.

“We had an opportunity of a generation,” Pelosi I was told in an interview afterward, in an echo of what she’d said to her caucus in 2010. “We were not passing it by.”

Pelosi’s Thursday announcement that she is stepping down as leader — which was covered by The Sunday Review’s Jennifer Bendery — has already generated plenty of reactions from people who served alongside, worked with or observed her closely.

President Joe Biden called her “the most consequential” Former President Barack Obama was a speaker in history hailed her For “breaking barriers, opening doors for others, and working every day to serve the American people.” John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and both of them sparred Pelosi During their term as House Republicans leaders, they sent their warm regards. You can count upon more testimonials, and more recollections. Pelosi’s contemporary biographers, Molly Ball And Susan Page.

I didn’t cover Pelosi as closely as those two or regular Capitol Hill correspondents, and I wouldn’t presume to know her as well. I did follow her career, and when I wrote my history of the Affordable Care ActI did some research on her backstory.

Even now, I’m not sure her achievements get the recognition they deserve, given the obstacles to any kind of change in American politics, let alone the kind of sweeping legislative reforms that Democrats passed during her tenure.

A Milestone that Attracted Surprisingly Little Attention

2007: Pelosi became the first woman to serve as speaker of the House, she became the most powerful woman in the history of American politics ― a distinction she may still hold, depending on how you compare the speaker’s post with serving as vice president The leader or founder of Federal Reserve, or one among nine Supreme Court justices.

Her rise to power was part a profound transformation in the role women in American life and Congress in particular. As Pelosi In a speech on Thursday, she noted that the House Democratic caucus was made up of only 12 women at the time she took office in 1987. It now has 75. Many people have managed caregiving in a way their male counterparts have never done. PelosiA mother of five, Sheila, understands all too well.

The milestone of Pelosi’s elevation to speaker in 2007 got a lot less attention than you might think. She didn’t appear on the cover of one of the weekly news magazines, as both of her Republican predecessors did during their tenures, and she wouldn’t until more than a decade later, while leading the opposition to then-President Donald Trump.

George W. Bush shakes hands Nancy Pelosi At the 2007 State of the Union address where the president saluted her for being the first woman speaker,

MANDEL NGA via Getty Images

Ironically, one person who understood the historical importance of this was also one of the few. Pelosi George W. Bush was a Republican and was elected speaker. As the former president began the State of the Union address in 2007, he paid tribute to Pelosi by marveling at how proud her father, former Baltimore Mayor and U.S. Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., would have been to see her presiding from the riser.

It’s not so Pelosi’s ascendance escaped media attention. But the focus was usually on her ideological predisposition — specifically, the possibility that the San Francisco liberal would take her party and her country too far to the left. It’s a specter that Republicans were raising just this past year in the midterm campaign, when Pelosi Again figured prominently In advertisements that scare conservatives to vote.

Pelosi She has always been a liberal and has supported causes that were sometimes seen as outside the mainstream of politics. During the Bush presidency, for example, she voted against authorizing war in Iraq and openly called for recognizing same-sex marriage ― positions that may seem humdrum now but were plenty controversial back then. (See this). old NBC News clip Steve Kornacki, journalist, posted the following tweet Thursday.

But Pelosi Her willingness to accept deals that fall short of liberal ideals has been a frequent sign of her support, sometimes to the detriment of her would-be supporters.ven heavily compromised legislation can represent both the outer limits of what’s possible and a big step in the right direction.

Crafting Obamacare — And Then Saving It

This approach was crystal clear The Affordable Care Act fight was clear.

During the months-long negotiation process over legislation, Pelosi pushed to make the program’s financial assistance more generous so that people buying insurance wouldn’t have to pay so much, even though that meant fighting with the White House, Senate leadership or sometimes both. She lobbied to include a “public option” that would provide a government-run insurance program for those who didn’t trust private carriers.

However, she made some bargains that she did not find painful. This was particularly true when it came to the question of reproductive freedom.

Pelosi A devout Catholic, she considers one of the most important possessions to be a photo taken on a trip to Rome as a child with her father for a visit to Pope. At the same time, she’s a longtime defender of abortion rights, which she does not see as a contradiction even though many of her critics do. “The church has their position, and we have ours, which is that a woman has free will given to her by God,” Once she told The New York Times.

“I just felt like the momentum was heading in the direction of surrender. Pelosi just did not allow it to happen.”

– Sen. Chris Murphy, recalling PelosiRole of the Affordable Care Act in Savings

In the fall of 2009, she realized she couldn’t assemble a majority without placating anti-abortion Democrats, who at that point still represented a significant chunk of the caucus. Their support was won by a key concession, which effectively stopped new Obamacare plans paying for abortion services. Pelosi then had to explain this to a Democratic women’s caucus that included some of her closest allies. Though distraught and furiousThey trusted each other enough to go along. Pelosi It was her only choice to let health reform fail.

One reason Pelosi This trust was built through her hard work, dedication and meticulous attention to details. She is famous for her long days, which frequently include rounds of fundraising and speaking after she’s done managing the business of the House. During the Affordable Health Care Act fight Los Angeles Times reporters One day, she shadowed her and made phone calls to 50 members of the caucus.

Pelosi makes a point of understanding the political assets and vulnerabilities of her members, and ensuring that they know she understands their strengths and weaknesses so they can see she’s looking out for their interests. Still, sometimes there’s no substitute for sheer force of will, the kind she displayed at another moment in the Affordable Care Act debate ― this time, when a group of House members were objecting to the way adjustments to Medicare would affect hospital payments in their districts.

One of them was Rep. Ron Kind (the Wisconsin House Democrat who is retiring this year). He arose from a meeting to say he was leaving because he was sick. “no.” Pelosi got up to block his way out, grasped him by the hands and told him she wasn’t letting him leave until she was done making her case.

He listened, and after some negotiations, he finally voted for it.

A Second Act, A Fight For Democracy

A lot of political professionals believed this. Pelosi After Democrats lost, would resign Majority in 2010. Instead, she decided to stay on and use the time to prepare for what she believed would be another chance at legislating.

This included a crucial piece of unfinished business in health care: giving federal government leverage prescription drug prices. It was identified as a major issue by the party. She then collaborated with her lieutenants, staff, and other members to draft a bill that would be approved by the majority. There was a lot of anger among both liberal and conservative Democrats as the internal debate erupted. Pelosi. However, almost everyone voted for yes.

And although that particular bill went nowhere, because Trump wouldn’t support it and Republicans in charge of the Senate wouldn’t take it up, the exercise of putting it together gave Democrats a head start when Biden became president and Democrats got control of the Senate. It’s a big reason that a version This year it was earlier, as part the Inflation Reduction Act.

The prescription drug reform bill that became law, like the Affordable Care Act was much less ambitious than what long-time advocates had hoped for. It was also much less ambitious than House legislation. Pelosi Two years ago, he had championed the initiative. The initiative gave the federal government a new authority, which future lawmakers could expand, and handed the pharmaceutical lobby a rare defeat. Some Americans are paying a high price for drugs and savings could begin next year.

That’s all in addition to the law’s investments in clean energy, which are the largest in American history.

What has defined? Pelosi’s later years as Democratic leader is not legislation, but her defense of democracy while it has been under assault ― literally, on Jan. 6, and figuratively throughout the Trump era. This week, she made a floor speech. Pelosi As the Capitol Building is described, “a temple of our Democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.” From the very beginning, she saw Trump as a different Republican from his predecessors. She didn’t care about their differences on policy. She was steadfast in her loyalty to the fundamental principles of democracy, regardless.

Many in her party felt that she went too far or was not doing enough to defeat Trump at times. (Her refusal to impeach Trump in 2019 is a key focus of her campaign. new book Rachael Bade & Karoun demirjian But Pelosi’s feelings about Trump and what he represented were no secret, and maybe no single moment better captured them than A video clip Alexandra made the documentary with her daughter. PelosiHe was about to make Jan.

An aide is shown in the footage. Pelosi that Trump isn’t coming to the Capitol building, as he’d told his followers he would do. After gazing out the window, and seeing the insurrectionists approaching from Pennsylvania Avenue, Pelosi says: “I hope he comes. I’m going to punch him out. I’ve been waiting for this. For trespassing on the Capitol grounds. I’m going to punch him out. And I’m going to go to jail, and I’m going to be happy.”

Pelosi’s threat to strike Trump got all the attention afterward, but it was just as notable that she mentioned accepting the consequences of assaulting a president ― i.e., going to jail.

Despite her anger, she believed in the rule and law.

A Legacy and Transition

Pelosi’s second tenure as speaker was going to reach its end this year, even if she stayed on as leader, because Republicans will take control of the House in January. But she leaves the cauCus is in a strong position without control of the chamber, particularly considering the difficulties that Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader, will face when he tries to manage a thin majority that includes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

It suffices to say that McCarthy is not considered a politician with the necessary skills. PelosiLet alone the spine.

McCarthy was not present on Thursday at the House Floor Pelosi’s announcement, and neither were most Republicans. Maybe that was a function of scheduling circumstances, and maybe it wasn’t. Either way, it’s a sign of the times and how the Republican Party has changed since the days when Bush saluted her with such grace.

The Democrats have a succession plan in place. Hakeem Jeffreys, a New York Democrat will be leading a new group of leaders who are younger. Pelosi Her lieutenants. They have waited patiently for this chance, and many Democrats feel that the transition to a younger generation is overdue.

But Pelosi She will keep her congressional seat. It’s not difficult to imagine her continued presence in the House, as such a knowledgeable and revered leader, undermining the new team’s authority — especially if they end up striking a different balance between idealism and pragmatism than Pelosi You might.

It could even work well. She said Thursday that she wouldn’t be requesting committee assignments. “I have no intention of being the mother-in-law in the kitchen,” She made a comment. And so far, at least, the transition plan hasn’t provoked much controversy.

That would not be possible without unity in the caucus — about purpose as well as personnel. It’s the kind of resolve that Pelosi It was maintained throughout her tenure, which is a major reason her record might look even more impressive with the passage of time.