Politician Nancy Pelosi’s Secret Sauce is extraordinary. You don’t lead your party in the House for 20 years, become the first female speaker, and then become a speaker again without having incredibly strong leadership abilities.

But there is one quality that Pelosi possesses that even the best politicians lack: the ability to count votes.

Pelosi declared on Thursday that she will stay on as Speaker of the House, where Republicans now hold the majority following the midterm elections, rather than vie for a leadership position. No one, and I mean no one, during her tenure as leader of the House Democratic caucus knew how to gauge support (and opposition) or how to persuade and bribe members to support her priorities as she did.

This talent has been a part of Pelosi’s ascent up the Democratic leadership ladder since her first significant triumph.

It was evident in the early 2000s that Rep. Dick Gephardt, the leader of the House Democrats, was eyeing the exits and getting ready for an ultimately futile 2004 presidential run. At that time, the contest for minority whip was seen as a predictor of who would take Gephardt’s place as group leader.

For years, the contest was fought essentially in secret. But when it came time to cast the ballots, Pelosi triumphed 118-95 in 2001, making her the highest-ranking woman in congressional leadership history at the time. At that time, she had plans to lead the House’s minority in 2003 and to become a speaker in 2007.

Pelosi repeatedly showed an extraordinary ability for anticipating what her members needed and when they needed it in order to persuade them to vote the way she wanted, both during her tenure as speaker and as the House minority leader.

Two instances come to mind.

The first occurred in November 2009, when Pelosi was charged with enacting the president-major elect’s health care reform. The bill was enormous and, like all enormous legislation, it required an extremely precarious alliance that might disintegrate at any time.

Additionally, she thought that Republicans would not provide any support, so Pelosi would have to secure 218 votes from her own caucus or inform Obama that his plan would not pass.

Nancy Pelosi’s Secret Sauce

As Molly Ball, a Time contributor who has authored a book about Pelosi stated in 2020:

Pelosi believed that courting Republicans was a futile endeavor. She anticipated the plan would receive no GOP support from the start. Does the president not get how the game is played? Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff of the White House, was questioned. Which does he want: “He wants to get things done and be loved, and you can’t have both.

More than any other member of the House, Pelosi understood how the game worked. In March 2010, the Affordable Care Act was approved by the House by a vote of 219-212, with 34 Democrats voting against it and 0 Republicans voting in favor.

In November 2021, Pelosi successfully steered President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill to passage, providing the second illustration of her skill at tallying votes.

As I stated back then:

Consider the difficulties Pelosi encountered when attempting to pass this infrastructure bill, starting with the fact that she only had a three-seat majority, making it possible for even a small number of rogue Democrats to thwart the entire effort.

Nancy Pelosi’s Secret Sauce

Add to that the utter lack of trust not only between Senate moderates and liberals in the House but also the definite lack of trust between liberals and moderates in the House. Add to that the fact that the entire package has been in stalemate for months due to negotiations between the opposing parties over a larger $1.75 trillion social safety net bill.

The package, which provided $1.2 trillion for infrastructure projects around the nation, was approved by a vote of 228 to 206. Six Democrats abstained, compared to the thirteen Republicans who supported it.

“Is Nancy Pelosi the all-time greatest Speaker? (whether you agree with her agenda or not),” wrote Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman in a tweet that included a screenshot of Pelosi’s final 228–206 victory.

In both cases, Pelosi undertook what appeared to be an impossible task: find a way to pass the kind of legislation that had repeatedly fallen short in previous years. And yet Pelosi was able to do the task both times, as well as on numerous more instances.

No matter your opinion of the legislation she supported, she has a stellar record as a legislator. Her success is also built on an intrinsic understanding of human nature, specifically what motivates people to vote and how they might be persuaded.

More than any other member of Congress in the modern era, Pelosi possesses this talent.