Robert Novak

No committee chairman wants to take the risk of going public against Pelosi, including one who sought her advice -- and, hopefully, support -- on a controversial matter of House business. This anonymous chairman was rebuffed by the speaker, who declined to talk to him, either in person or over the telephone.

Being the "Committee of One" does not mean Pelosi is without lieutenants. She is close to two fellow Californians, both fiercely partisan, who head committees: George Miller (Education and Labor) and Henry Waxman (Oversight and Government Reform). Miller is regarded as her consigliere, always at her side. She is also considered close to moderate chairmen Ike Skelton (Armed Services) and John Spratt (Budget), plus liberal chairman Barney Frank (Financial Services).

However, that does not mean she always takes their advice, as witness her big blunder as speaker. Skelton, a seasoned student of international relations, told her the Armenian resolution would antagonize Turkey and thus constituted a foreign policy debacle in the making. Rahm Emanuel, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, also opposed it (as he had when serving as President Bill Clinton's political aide). Pelosi insisted until some 45 House Democrats -- including Skelton -- opposed her.

The Armenian episode suggests a Pelosi decision has to approach the brink of disaster before Democrats speak out. Her popularity in the party beyond Capitol Hill is too great. When I asked one esteemed Democratic operative whether Pelosi's authority is without restraint, he called that a sexist question because I never would ask that about Sam Rayburn or Tip O'Neill. Indeed, I would not. They were not that powerful.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

©Creators Syndicate