Arc of Power

Inside Nancy Pelosi's Speakership, 2005–2010

John A. Lawrence

Drawing from his thousands of pages of notes written while serving as chief of staff to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, John Lawrence has written a narrative documenting his insider perspective from 2005 to 2010. These momentous years included furious political and legislative battles over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic recession, the 2008 presidential election, the productive first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, as well as many key legislative products, such as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, the Affordable Care Act, and Wall Street reform.

Lawrence’s unique observations provide an unparalleled look at the interpersonal relationships of major political leaders and institutions and give readers a first-hand perspective of this significant period in political history. Utilizing more than 9,000 pages of transcribed notes from hundreds of conversations between top congressional and administration officials, readers can enter the room and experience the discussions of the key participants in real time.

Arc of Power provides a valuable account of the strategies, machinations, and challenges of congressional leaders as they gain, exercise, and lose power. Utilizing the voices of the men and women involved in the often—but not always—partisan clashes, this book examines the role of personalities, factions, parties, and political institutions in the formulation of national policy on key issues. Lawrence artfully demonstrates the challenges presented by intraparty factional disagreements when writing complex legislation and illustrates the institutional tensions between the House and Senate, and Congress and the White House, when the government is unified under one party or divided.

Lawrence offers valuable insights into the differing and often conflicting role played by the House and Senate given their design and composition, and shows how even a House led by powerful individuals is frequently undercut by the Senate, and how that weakness especially impacts the political power of minority populations.

“Important and revealing, Arc of Power puts the reader in the room for key interactions between Speaker Pelosi, her congressional colleagues, and the presidents with whom she served. This book offers a window into the personal nature of Congress, the interchamber and interbranch politics that shape US policy, and the key contributions of a congressional leader managing it all for her party and institution. This superbly written insider’s account is a must-read for historians, political scientists, and anyone interested in American national politics.”

—Douglas B. Harris, professor of political science, Loyola University Maryland

“Drawing upon his many years of experience as a top political staffer, Lawrence provides a revealing insider account of the House Democratic Caucus and Nancy Pelosi’s leadership during the Bush and Obama presidencies. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in how congressional Democrats grappled with such issues as the Iraq War, the Great Recession, and health care reform.”

—Matthew Green, professor and chair, Department of Politics, The Catholic University of America

About the Author

John A. Lawrence is visiting professor at the University of California, Washington Center.