WASHINGTON — It's a pivotal moment for Nancy Pelosi — the beginning of a triumphant return as the nation's first female House speaker, or the start of a political reckoning over who should lead Democrats in the Donald Trump era.
With Democrats winning control of the House, President Trump signaled Wednesday his support for Pelosi as speaker. In a tweet Trump said that Pelosi "has earned this great honor" and suggested the Republican party could help her secure the job. "If they (Democrats) give her a hard time, perhaps we will add some Republican votes," Trump wrote on Twitter.
Reclaiming the speaker's gavel could be Pelosi's last act, one she intends to use to restore the power of the office after GOP Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement. She wants to impress on Americans the importance of the legislative branch as a co-equal branch of government.
"People will see a Congress that is very different than we have now," Pelosi told The Associated Press while campaigning in Arizona days before the election.
The California Democrat doesn't think Americans fully understand the significance of the speaker's job — which, after the vice president, is next in line to the White House.
"What I would do next would be to say, this is what this role is: It's the leading figure in the first branch of government, it has awesome power, and we get things done," she said. You have to "show the power of the gavel."
Pelosi was in a celebratory mood Tuesday evening, declaring that "tomorrow will be a new day in America."
Few leaders have reclaimed the House speaker's office after losing it and, as the first woman to wield the gavel, Pelosi's ascent would be a milestone.
But at 78, she knows her storied tenure on Capitol Hill is likely coming to a close, even if she refuses to put a date-stamp on it. A new generation of Democratic representatives, propelled by resurgent activism, is heading to the halls of Congress. That means change is coming, regardless of whether the House flips from Republican control.
Pelosi has campaigned tirelessly this election season. Fueled by a steady diet of chocolate, she crisscrossed 30 cities in a 31-day rush aimed at boosting Democratic candidates. She endured millions of dollars in GOP attack ads and Trump's rally cry against her "radical Democratic agenda." She persuaded candidates to shut out the noise — "don't take the bait" — and stick with their legislative agenda of lowering health care costs, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and delivering government reforms. She also tamped down liberal cries for Trump's impeachment.
"It's not about Democrats and Republicans at this point," she told volunteers in Pima County. "It's about our country."
Midterm elections are often the "lounge act" to the presidential contest, as she puts it, but the battle for the House quickly spun into the signature contest of 2018. Democratic candidates jumped into races, motivated by opposition to the president's agenda and the GOP's proposed changes to health care. Activists bypassed Pelosi's vast party apparatus, which shoveled $129 million to the Democratic campaign committee, and instead rewarded candidates through online donations and social media promotion.
As Pelosi played a starring role in GOP attack ads against them, several Democrats said flat-out they would not vote for her as leader. Some are from districts Trump won in 2016 and see the San Franciscan as too liberal, while others represent liberal strongholds that view her as too willing to compromise.