America’s Iron Lady faces biggest challenge yet
For four years, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi had just one self-appointed job: tear down Donald Trump.
It was an assignment she embraced with rare zeal.
She impeached him twice, tore up his speech notes at a State of the Union address and described him as a "deranged, unhinged, dangerous President of the United States".
Dubbed "Crazy Nancy" by Donald Trump, it is clear who won their running battle.
Now the Democrats occupy the White House and hold the balance of power - by wafer thin margins - in both houses of Congress.
At the age of 80 and supposedly on her last lap as Speaker of the House of Representatives - an incredibly important role in US politics - it would seem that Pelosi, the most powerful woman in Washington, is on course for a dream run into retirement.
But in reality, Pelosi, who was a close ally of former US president Barack Obama, is now facing a much tougher two years than the past four she spent pursuing Trump.
"I think this is going to be her toughest test yet," Michael Hardaway, a former spokesman for the Democrats, said.
"She is one of the smartest operators Democrats have ever had.
"You're going to have the progressives versus the moderates on nearly every bill. It's going to be tough for her to get anything done, but here's the thing: If anyone can do this, it's Nancy Pelosi," Hardaway told USA Today.
Pelosi has been in Congress for 34 years and has been in charge of the Democrats in the House since 2003 - both in power and in minority - the first woman to lead a party in Congress. She has maintained her grip on the leadership through a mixture of steely discipline and her renowned ability to count votes and build consensus within the party.
"She brings three main strengths as the party's leader: fundraising prowess, experience and skill in legislative bargaining and coalition building," the University of Minnesota's Professor Kathryn L Pearson said.
"Her skill has also been display as Pelosi has won over sceptical Democrats on both her ideological left and right."
But after so many years in "the swamp", she now finds herself cast as a "left-wing socialist" by the conservatives and "she is certainly not as far left as some on the left would like her to be", says Pelosi biographer and Time magazine writer Molly Ball.
Ball said the Democrats wanted to oust her from the leadership in 2016 because she was seen as "a toxic and polarising figure … just a liability", she told vox.com. But with typical determination, Pelosi stayed on top and regained the big job in the 2018 mid-terms and again earlier this month.
Long-time Democratic watchers say there is little doubt Pelosi will be there or there abouts when the big decisions are being made in Biden's Washington.
"I have no doubt she will be in the room all the time," Phil Schiliro, the White House's liaison to Congress under Mr Obama, told the Wall Street Journal.
Some of the younger cohort within her own party, who see her as a pragmatic deal maker happy to cozy up to Republicans rather than a frothing ideologue, say enough is enough.
"I mean, I think so," said firebrand Democratic left-winger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 31, de facto leader of the so-called Squad, a handful of assertive and demanding young progressives, when asked if it was time for Pelosi "to go"?
"I do think that we need new leadership in the Democratic Party. Absolutely. But how do we ensure that when we shift we don't even move further to the right?"
The pressure on Pelosi rose after the Democrats lost a dozen seats at the 2020 election and failed to unseat one Republican.
It will take all of Pelosi's guile and smarts to make sure she can deliver the numbers for Joe Biden as he tries to roll out his agenda - which is also under pressure from the hard left who reluctantly accepted him as candidate when Bernie Sanders withdrew.
Left-wing Vox.com journalist Sean Illing said: "The truth is that Pelosi is a bit of an enigma. For all her fame, we don't really know that much about how she sees the world."
Originally published as America's Iron Lady faces biggest challenge yet