Nancy Pelosi won’t pick sides, but praises Bernie Sanders for ‘attracting young people’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to students at Scripps College on Thursday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to students at Scripps College on Thursday.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The college crowd at Scripps College in Claremont tried its best but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi eschewed jumping into the national political fray over the increasingly competitive Democratic presidential race during a talk here Thursday.

Asked about the primary fight between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Pelosi offered only shining compliments for both candidates.

Pelosi (D-San Francisco) lauded Clinton as being better prepared and having more experience than the three previous presidents -- including her husband Bill Clinton -- did when they ran for office.



Feb. 19, 8:15 a.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Nancy Pelosi lauded Hillary Clinton for trying to break the “marble ceiling” in her effort to become the first woman elected president. Pelosi was noting her own achievement as the first female speaker of the House.



But don’t read that as an endorsement. Pelosi also had praise for Sanders.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to Bernie for just getting out there and attracting young people,” she said.

Pelosi dodged a question from a student asking her who she would pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, prompted by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday.

Pelosi said she did not expect President Obama to name a nominee until after Scalia is buried this weekend.

“I don’t even want to venture a name,” she told the students at the women’s college.

Instead of weighing in on popular issues, Pelosi spent much of her time giving advice to girls seeking careers in politics.

Pelosi described feeling guilty during her first run for Congress in 1987, fearing that she was abandoning her daughter, Alexandra, who was in high school at the time. So she asked the teenager for input.

“Mother,” Pelosi recalled her daughter saying, “get a life.”

Pelosi ran and won that year. She told the crowd of mainly young women to “be yourself” to get into public service.

“It is hard but it is worth it,” she said.

Turning to the men in the crowd, Pelosi added: “It is not that we think we are better than you. The beauty is in the mix, the diversity of opinion at the table.”

Pelosi played to the young crowd of college students from the various Claremont Colleges, saying more than once that the influence of money in politics needs to be reduced and arguing that changing the system would lead to more diverse elected officials.

She also encouraged the students to stay involved in politics beyond the presidential election.

“It has power, it has glamour, it has celebrities,” she said. “This is when people are attracted to the political process.”

She closed her talk by poking fun at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s recent comment at a Clinton rally that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

“I think there is a special place in heaven for everyone who votes,” Pelosi said.

On her way out, the congresswoman posed for selfies with students before leaving in a black SUV while a crowd of protesters chanted for her to “end sanctuary cities.” Many held photos of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old medical sales representative, who prosecutors say was killed in San Francisco by an immigrant whom the U.S. had deported five times.

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