In New York, Pelosi talks up child care, paid leave and the shutdown

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Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, at Hunter College. (Reid Pillifant)
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On Friday morning, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi came to New York to talk about a new priority for the women's movement in Washington.

"The missing link in all of it has been: where is the affordable, quality child care?" Pelosi asked, in an upstairs faculty dining hall at Hunter College, packed with a hundred or so (mostly female) supporters.

Pelosi said Democrats "have a specific agenda, some specific legislation that we're lobbying around the country," which includes "fair pay" and an increase in the minimum wage.

But Pelosi cited child care, and paid family medical leave, as one of the more pressing problems that hasn't been addressed.

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"That's what the women's economic agenda is about, is the balance between home and work," she said, recounting a story she had been told by a school bus driver about a tearful mother sending her sick child to school because she couldn't afford to miss work or pay for child care.

"Can you just imagine the anguish for that mom, who can't afford to stay home, can't afford quality health care, on the margins, probably making the minimum wage?" she said. "It's just not right, in the greatest country that ever existed on the face of the earth. And we are going to do something about it."

Pelosi was joined on stage by congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, and the front row of the audience included Councilmembers Gale Brewer and Letitia James, who recently won the Democratic nominations for Manhattan borough president and public advocate, respectively, and State Senator Gustavo Rivera, the only gentleman seated in the first several rows.

"Congratulations to all of you who have worked so hard for paid sick leave here in New York," Pelosi said, comparing the local legislation, to the family medical leave bill that she's pushing in Congress.

That effort got a boost last week when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced she'll sponsor the bill in the Senate, and did a publicity circuit that included morning television, cable news, and a think tank.

The women's agenda also includes universal pre-kindergarten, which is also a centerpiece of Bill de Blasio's campaign for mayor, but Pelosi seemed less enthused about that.

"President Obama has a universal pre-K initiative, rejected by some in Congress," she said. "We'll fight for that, but that's just a piece."

The California Democrat, who is a favorite lightning rod for conservatives, was mostly diplomatic in talking about Republicans during her remarks, with references like "some in Congress," but later called them "reckless" and lamented the current government shutdown during the question-and-answer session.

"Let the record reflect, that under her leadership we didn't have a shutdown," said Velazquez, who spoke after Pelosi.

Maloney, in arguing for a new Equal Rights Amendment, stressed the need to have women's right enshrined in the Constitution, saying "a law can be rescinded anytime."

"How would you like your life to depend on these Tea Party types?" Maloney said. "My god. How would you like your state to elect 'em? Think of what your rights are in that state."

In New York, the issue of paid leave appears to be a winner. A poll commissioned in conjuction with the mayoral election showed a majority of respondents were more likely to support a candidate who favored paid sick day legislation.

Democrats have done well nationally among women in the last few election cycles, and a recent poll suggested Republicans are losing ground with women voters.

"If we get together and push, and vote, for these policies and for leaders who support these policies, I'm sure we can pass them," Maloney said this morning.