Nancy Pelosi speaking with Oxford students.
Image Credit: David K. Hays

Nancy Pelosi speaks at Keble College

On the 25th of April, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi addressed an audience of students at the O’Reilly Theatre at Keble College, organised by OxfordSpeaks.

Pelosi served as the 52nd Speaker of the US House of Representatives between 2007-2011 and 2019-2023. She is the only woman to have held this position and currently represents California’s 11th congressional district.

The event was hosted by OxfordSpeaks in collaboration with the Oxford Diplomatic Society and the Oxford International Relations Society. In attendance was also Pelosi’s husband, Paul. 

Opening her talk, Pelosi addressed the room saying: “I see the future [in] the beautiful diversity of attendees”, and stated she was here to “hear Oxford speak”.

During the audience Q&A, attendees questioned Pelosi about a number of topics, including the January 6 US Capitol Attack, Israel-Gaza war, and the future of democracy. 

January 6 US Capitol Attack

During her time as Speaker, Pelosi was a vocal critic of former US President Donald Trump and his supporters within the Republican party. In February 2020, she made headlines when she publicly tore up a copy of the then-President’s speech during a State of the Union Address, calling it a “manifesto of mistruths”.

She continued to express this sentiment in Oxford when she argued that opposing Trump’s potential re-election was a matter of “absolute total urgency” and a “life and death risk to civilisation”. 

When asked if the Capitol insurgence of January 6th was a predictable reaction to the 2020 Republican defeat, Pelosi stated: “Nobody could ever foresee [the] violence incited by the US President”. However, she described the actions by the sect of Republican supporters as “not uncharacteristic of their assault on the values of our country”. 

Pelosi made reference to the presence of Far-Right political actors at the January 6th riots, stating: “We don’t like to see Nazi and Confederate flags under the Dome that Lincoln built”.

She argued Trump was “not unlike other autocrats in Europe’s history”, referencing his campaigns of “fake news” in attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 elections. 

When asked about the possibility of Trump’s re-election, Pelosi insisted that “he’s not going to be President. It’s not going to happen!”.

A picture of the audience in the O’Reilly Theatre featuring Paul Pelosi. Credit: David K. Hays

Israel-Gaza war

The topic of the US’s diplomatic relationship with Israel underpinned much of Pelosi’s visit to Oxford.

These tensions continued to her later address at the Oxford Union, where students demonstrated both inside and outside the Union.

One student asked about crackdowns on university protests against Israel’s war in Gaza, as well as continued US support for Israel. Pelosi noted she did not object to student demonstrations on campuses but did object to the antisemitism she alleged was present in some of them. 

“It has to stop. It has to end,” she said, referring to the continued violence. 

Pelosi is a proponent of a two-state solution and openly criticised Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. She does not see the path to peace as an option under his leadership, she added.

Following the World Central Kitchen (WCK) drone strikes in April 2024, Pelosi, among other Congressional Democrats, signed an open letter urging a halt of military aid to Israel until the incident was fully investigated. The WCK is an American non-profit food relief organisation. She cited her involvement in the letter and expressed her thoughts on the ways in which Israel has responded to Hamas. 

“The manner in which it has been done, with tens of thousands of people killed, and on top of that, hunger, malnutrition, dehydration, but also getting up to the fifth level of all of this — famine. Famine is sinful,” she said. 

She called the 7 October attacks “barbaric” and stated her belief that Israel has a right to defend itself but criticised Netanyahu’s military response as “the worst possible”. 

Apart from criticising Netanyahu, Pelosi reiterated US support for Israel. She stated it was in “US national security interest[s]” since “Israel is the only democracy in the region”. 

Future of Democracy

When asked to discuss the future of democracy, Pelosi expressed her firm belief that American politics should be built upon “consensus” and “respect for others opinions”.

She discussed many of the Democratic Party’s achievements during her 16-year tenure as Speaker of the House but insisted she could only accept praise “on behalf of her House of Democrat members”. She praised their “courage” in electing her as the first female Speaker of the House.

Pelosi reaffirmed her support for US President Joe Biden, noting his presidency was “comparable to Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson for working families”. 

To make democracies more solid, she stated a need to increase voter confidence, in addition to other factors such as maintaining a free and fair press to report on politicians and uphold accountability. She referred to the presence of “big, dark money suffocating the airways with misinformation” within discussions on climate change. 

With UK local elections around the corner, one student asked Pelosi on her views of Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer. Pelosi praised his “impressive background” and said he “looks like a person ready for success”. 

Pelosi concluded the talk by stating she was “honoured to hear [Oxford’s] views”.

Image description: Nancy Pelosi in Oxford

Image credit: David Hartley