Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives and the third most powerful politician in Washington, has emerged as the face of the resistance against Donald Trump since last November's midterm elections.

With the House back in Democratic control and the gavel in her hand, Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer have made life increasingly difficult for the White House, standing firm against the president's demands for federal funds to bankroll his US-Mexico border wall during the record-breaking 35-day government shutdown and emboldening congressional committees to investigate the administration for traces of wrongdoing.

The veteran California lawmaker, 79, faces a tough task herself at times in reining in her idealistic younger colleagues.

The progressive wing of her party represented by the likes of freshman congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been particularly active in calling for the president's impeachment but their more pragmatic boss insists: "He's not worth it".

Pelosi is also known for her withering sense of humour.

Asked whether she believed Trump had denied her the use of a US military plane as revenge for her obstinacy during the shutdown, she answered sweetly:

I don't think the president would be that petty. Do you?

She was on equally waspish form earlier this week when she attended a Washington Post Live event in the capital.

With the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee voting to hold attorney general William Barr in contempt of Congress over his refusal to release the full, unredacted version of the Mueller report on Russian election hacking, reporter Robert Costa asked Pelosi whether they could do the same to Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who won't hand over Trump's tax returns.

"How far could you go on that front, Speaker Pelosi?" Costa asked.

"Could you hold the secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin in contempt? Some Democrats have even raised the prospect of arresting the Treasury secretary if he does not comply with congressional demands.”

Her answer?

We do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol.

But if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation and I’m not for that.

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