Bitter end for Pelosi
Washington – Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as US speaker of the House, appeared out of a job on Tuesday after a short but productive four years in office as Republicans retook the chamber she ran with gusto.
Pelosi, 70, won the distinction of being the highest woman ever elected to office in the US. But while she earned the affection of Democrats for her strict and skilful running of the 435-seat House of Representatives, she swiftly became the woman the Republicans most loved to hate.
Always impeccably turned out, the representative from California is an influential and powerful lawmaker and a charismatic speaker. President Barack Obama has credited her with helping to push through some of his key reforms.
Married to a millionaire and a mother of five, Pelosi won admirers in party ranks for her fund-raising abilities as well as her success in uniting Democrats against Republican legislation.
But some Republicans have spoofed her as Disney's would-be Dalmatian skinner "Cruella de Vil", and portrayed her as a "wicked witch" of high taxes in a television commercial that sees her challenger melt her down to nothing with a bucket of water.
Pelosi, whose office says she has raised $52.3m this election cycle and held 212 political events in 24 US states plus Puerto Rico, recently shrugged off the attacks.
"If no one's talking about you, you have to wonder what you were doing," she said, calling the often personal criticism the "highest compliment" and stressing US politics requires "a suit of armour" and the ability "to take a punch".
She certainly helped use her sway to push through key legislation. She powered an $800bn economic stimulus plan to passage in February 2009, drove legislation to fight climate change through in June 2009, and led a Wall Street overhaul bill over Republican objections in June 2010.
Pelosi, who as House speaker is technically second in line to the presidency, now looks set to be replaced by House Minority Leader John Boehner come January when the new House gathers for the first time.
Boehner has described himself as "hopping mad" over some of Pelosi's hardball tactics – notably the 11th-hour unveiling of the text of the controversial climate bill.
There have been many women advisers to US presidents, three women US secretaries of state, and two women US vice presidential hopefuls from major parties. But Pelosi was the first to be House speaker.
Born to a political family
Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro was born to a political family with roots in Venice, Genoa, Abruzzi, Campobasso and Sicily and raised in Baltimore's "Little Italy".
"We were devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, proud of our Italian American heritage, and staunchly Democratic," she once wrote.
She was first elected to Congress in 1987, joined the Democratic House leadership in 2001, became the first woman to lead a major US party in the House in 2002, rising to speaker after Democrats won a majority in 2006.
"Today, we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them," she said on taking office in January 2007.
Asked once whether she was the most powerful woman in 100 years; Pelosi told ABC television: "That sounds good."
Pelosi has also been a force on US foreign policy, notably levelling forceful attacks on China's human rights record, criticising the war in Iraq and making frequent trips to Italy.