Nancy Pelosi shuts down Luke Russert for sexist question

“Let’s for the moment honor it as a legitimate question although it’s quite offensive but you don’t realize it, I guess.” — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) 

That was Nancy Pelosi yesterday responding to a sexist question by NBC reporter Luke Russert.  Russert’s exact question, at Pelosi’s announcement that she was not stepping down as House Minority Leader went as follows:

“Some of your colleagues privately say that your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having a younger leadership and hurts the party in the long term,” he said. “What’s your response?”

Apparently, Russert didn’t take the hint from the chorus of boos from the women standing behind Pelosi that he was off track, so he continued on,

“No, excuse me,” he said. “You, Mr. Hoyer, Mr. Clyburn, you’re all over 70. Is your decision to stay on prohibiting younger members for moving forward?”

Pelosi correctly slapped him down citing the fact that he has never asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that question.  McConnell is also over 70 years old.  The idea that it’s appropriate to ask Pelosi something so ageist and not ask the same question of the men in Congress who are also old is par for the course unfortunately.

Men are hardly ever asked to “step aside” and make room for new leadership.  Women are always expected to “make way” for “younger” folks, which usually means younger men in Russert’s age group, who are eager to move up the ranks of leadership in the Congress.  Male politicians literally stay in office until they die.   Why is it that when a woman who has worked her way up through the ranks to reach a position of power, like Pelosi the most successful Speaker in history in my opinion, must get out of the way?  The most effective Speaker and progressive champion is supposed to step aside?  Please.

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  • Jen

    I am a huge fan of Nancy Pelosi. I can’t stand Luke Russert. But I don’t think this question was totally out of line. If I were a member of the Democratic Caucus serving under Pelosi, I would have wanted to hear…not exactly a justification, but at least her thinking.

    Pelosi has been a great leader of House Democrats, but she’s been there for 10 years now, an extraordinarily long time (Boehner became House Republican leader in 2006, Reid and McConnell became the leaders of their parties in the Senate in 2007. The 5 years Reid and McConnell have served together/against each other is historically long). She’s been great about promoting women in the next generation into place and mentoring female members, so I don’t think it’s fair to characterize the people who would move up as “white men of Russert’s generation.” Debbie Wasserman Schultz is one of the people poised to move up into the leadership. Jim Clyburn will be second in command. Both are great progressive leaders, and neither of them is a 20something white man. White men of any age are a minority in the House Democratic Caucus, so there’s no reason to believe white men would be the ones to move into leadership when Pelosi and Steny Hoyer step aside.

    And the issue of moving the next generation into power is a legitimate one. Congress is very old, and we could lose some great leaders in Congress to their state governments or other federal government roles or the private sector if they don’t see a future in Congress. Pelosi is brilliant, and she knows this.

    The reason this question doesn’t get asked of Mitch McConnell to the same extent is because his white male next-in-commands are much younger than he is (with the exception of retiring Senator Jon Kyl) and there is a severe shortage of women (only Ayotte, Collins and Murkowski will remain in the next Congress) and people of color (Rubio, but they will add Cruz in the next Congress) in the Senate Republican Caucus. Ayotte and Rubio are brand new, Cruz hasn’t been inaugurated yet, and Murkowski lost a primary so she won’t be going into leadership; Collins is far too moderate to be in leadership and she’d lose reelection if she tried to. There’s no real hunger for a leadership change in the Senate Republican Caucus, and McConnell hasn’t been leader for nearly as long as Pelosi.

    As much as I love Pelosi, and I even think she made the right choice in staying leader this time, the question of grooming a new generation of Democratic leadership and moving them into power is a real one.

  • John

    Weren’t there questions about John McCain’s age? Is the question sexist or the way people have reacted to it? I think it was tasteless to have directed the question at her, but I don’t see the question as being specifically anti-woman.

    • F.Toth

      We can’t ignore or just wave away the fact that she WAS asked, in person, and in public, to step aside because of her age.

      McCain’s age was something discussed around him. No one that I remember directly attacked him for it.

      This is the reason Nancy Pelosi was correct in saying, “I’ll treat this as a legitimate question, even though it isn’t one.” She understood that she was being criticized, or even attacked, for daring to be female, aging, and seen in public. No one ever attacks a man for that.

      • John

        Actually people have, I’m not sure if any journalists have. That doesn’t mean they haven’t, I just haven’t found a verifiable specific instance of it.

        The question is either legitimate or not. If it isn’t, that fact that it isn’t posed directly to the candidate doesn’t make it so. If it is, she should have handled it gracefully.

        Where the sexism comes in is that women have always equated youth with beauty and beauty with worth. That’s why it’s not polite to ask a woman her age. I think that is what Pelosi was taking exception to, but it don’t believe that was his intent. That’s why I say the sexism was in the response and not in the question. Many people would consider the question legitimate even if directed towards a man.

        • dylan

          Is that what women have always done? THEY have always youth to beauty to worth?

          I think her response was chippy, but perfectly appropriate.

    • dylan

      The age and fitness of the Chief Executive is of different import than the age and fitness of any other position in government. It’s not a worthy comparison.

  • Ian

    You know how straight guys have “man-crushes”? What’s the equivilant of that for gay dudes, because that’s what I have for Ms. Pelosi.

    In a better world*, she’d be Speaker again.

    Also, there might have been a typo at the end of the post.

    * A better and less gerrymandered world.

  • Robert

    It makes sense for aging people of both genders in many professions to make way for a younger replacement. Admittedly, older men do get preferential treatment which is ironic because women live longer. I don’t remember Dick Cheney’s age but he was suffering from heart problems it seems throughout the Bush years. No one thought of replacing him. If that was a woman someone would’ve told her to step aside already and that women can’t handle the stress.

  • John
  • Anjana Sreedhar

    As far as we have come from the past, women are still more likely to be discriminated against or hurt by comments about age. It has a lot to do with appearance; women are valued for their appearance. Men do not hold such a burden, and if they do, not to as high a degree as women. This reminds me of the one local news station anchor who received a letter stating that she isn’t a role model for young girls because of her weight. It’s devastating that women are still being held to that standard. Slowly but surely, women are being judged based on merit, but for now, their appearance and youth still matters.

    Also what disappoints me is that Luke Russert is Tim Russert’s son. Russert Sr. was respectful during interviews with all people. If only his son had picked up from that!