Editor’s Note: Valerie Jarrett is a lawyer and politician who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
With the midterm elections behind us, Democrats now have the majority in the House of Representatives. But one question remains: Who will lead the body?
A Democrat will once again raise the speaker’s gavel, and he or she will face the monumental challenge of holding together a new, ideologically diverse majority while negotiating with Republicans.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. And House Democrats cannot afford to put forward anyone less than their smartest, savviest, most tenacious and strategic member – someone with a track record of successful leadership. That person is Nancy Pelosi.
As a senior adviser to President Barack Obama for eight years, I saw Pelosi lead in some of the most climactic negotiations and showdowns with the administration and Congress. During her time as speaker, Pelosi’s ferocity – in the face of all-but-impossible odds – was essential to passing historic, progressive legislation into law, such as the Affordable Care Act that so many rely on for health insurance.
After the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown in 2010 to fill the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, the Democrats were stripped of the 60th vote needed to avoid a possible GOP filibuster on the ACA. Some recommended Democrats retreat and settle for a children’s health care bill.
But Pelosi as speaker never lost her nerve. “You go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in. But we’re going to get health care reform passed for the American people.”
Thanks to her sheer force of will and determination, along with her follow members of Congress who put the health of the American people first, the ACA was signed in March 2010. Now, insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits on most benefits, deny coverage to the 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions or charge women higher premiums just for being women.
Since its implementation, Pelosi hasn’t stopped fighting to protect the ACA. Days after the 2016 presidential election, she was already marshaling the troops for the life-or-death battle to stop the irresponsible Republican plan to repeal the act swiftly.
It wasn’t just in the realm of health care that Pelosi exhibited tireless leadership. Pelosi led Congress in passing the 2009 Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which expanded educational opportunities and reformed the financial aid system to save billions of taxpayers’ dollars. And, in 2010, she led Congress to repeal the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. As a result of Pelosi’s unwavering dedication, the LGBTQ community has been able to serve openly in the military.
Now, with Democratic control of the House, Pelosi is swiftly moving to ensure that the diversity of voices that make up the majority are empowered on Capitol Hill. She announced, just days after the midterm elections, that one of her first plans in the new Congress is to establish a House diversity office, which would recruit and retain Capitol Hill employees from different backgrounds and ensure teams are more representative of our nation.
Throughout my career, I have seen strong and powerful women come under attack, especially those who are determined to shake up the status quo and bring about change. It was outrageous, but not surprising, to see the sexist attacks leveled at Pelosi by the Republicans in the midterm election season.
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Yet women have been indispensable in the resistance to both the current administration and the GOP Congress that enables it. From the first Women’s March to the historic number of women who won their midterm elections for office, Democrats have and will owe many of our most important Democratic victories under this administration to the courage, grit and determination of women. It is imperative that women not only have a seat at a table but also lead the table.
How fitting it will be to have the first woman speaker – and House Democrats’ toughest leader – become the next speaker, wielding the power to hold this administration accountable.