Pelosi steps aside as House Democratic leader, clearing the way for "new generation"

Pelosi steps aside as House Democratic leader, clearing the way for “new generation”

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Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made history as the first woman to serve in the role, will not seek another term as Democratic leader, she said Thursday, bringing an end to two decades as head of the Democratic caucus as the party prepares to relinquish its majority to the Republicans.

Pelosi will continue serving in the House after winning a 19th term in last week’s midterm elections, assuming a lower-profile role when the next Congress convenes in January. 

“Now we must move boldly into the future, grounded by the principles that have propelled us this far and open to fresh possibilities for the future,” Pelosi said. “With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress. For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus.”

Pelosi began her speech by tracing her path “from homemaker to House speaker,” from seeing the U.S. Capitol for the first time as a 6-year-old to working alongside presidents from both parties. Calling the Capitol a “temple of our democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals,” she paid homage to the Americans who served in the Congress before her and the historic legislative acts of the House, including the abolishment of slavery and extending to women the right to vote.

“A new day is dawning on the horizon, and I look forward, always forward, to the unfolding story of our nation,” she said. “A story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one, and always an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today the reality of tomorrow.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledges applause from lawmakers after speaking on the House floor at the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Pelosi concluded her remarks to raucous applause from her Democratic colleagues, who embraced her as she departed the lectern. President Biden spoke with Pelosi on Thursday morning and congratulated her on her tenure, the White House said.

“When I think of Nancy Pelosi, I think of dignity,” the president said in a statement. “History will note she is the most consequential speaker of the House of Representatives in our history. There are countless examples of how she embodies the obligation of elected officials to uphold their oath to God and country to ensure our democracy delivers and remains a beacon to the world. In everything she does, she reflects a dignity in her actions and a dignity she sees in the lives of the people of this nation.”

The decision by Pelosi to clear the way for a new generation of lawmakers to run the caucus puts an end to months of speculation about her political future. It also follows the violent attack on her husband Paul Pelosi at their San Francisco home last month, which the speaker told CNN would influence whether she would step aside. Pelosi herself was the target of the suspected assailant, but was in Washington at the time.

Joining Pelosi in stepping aside from Democratic leadership is Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the current majority leader and Pelosi’s longtime No. 2. Hoyer told his colleagues in a letter he would remain in Congress but forego a leadership position. His decision clears the way for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chair of the Democratic Caucus, to ascend to party leader when Democratic members vote in leadership elections at the end of the month. Hoyer endorsed Jeffries to succeed Pelosi as Democratic leader, calling him a “skilled and capable leader.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, praised Pelosi as a leader who left an “indelible mark” on Congress and the nation. He, too, offered his support in assisting a new generation of Democratic leaders, naming Jeffries, Rep. Katherine Clark of New York and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California.

“As a historic leader, she has met the challenges of guiding this body through the best and worst of times,” Clyburn said of Pelosi. “Her steady hand, principled policies, and unmatched ability to build consensus among the most diverse caucus the country has ever known are hallmarks of her storied career.”

Pelosi, wearing a white suit, the color often worn by suffragists, opened the House session ahead of her speech and was met with applause as she entered the House chamber. Dozens of Pelosi’s Democratic colleagues gathered for her remarks, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, offered a nod to Pelosi as he concluded brief comments on the House floor before her speech, saying, “Godspeed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks on the House floor at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

It was unclear heading into Thursday what decision Pelosi had made, and she took two versions of her speech home with her Wednesday night, a source familiar with the matter said. The speaker declined to answer questions about her plans when arriving at the Capitol Thursday morning.

Since her election to Congress in 1987, Pelosi rose through the ranks of House Democratic leadership, serving as minority whip — her election to that position made Pelosi the highest-ranking woman in congressional history — and then House Democratic leader, a role she has held since 2003.

In 2007, she made history as the first woman to be elected speaker of the House when Democrats took the majority. She served four nonconsecutive terms as speaker since then, uniting an often fractious Democratic caucus to pass some of the most consequential legislation in recent history under the Obama and Biden administrations.

Mr. Biden paid tribute to Pelosi’s record of ushering Democratic priorities through the House, characterizing her as a force in securing the support needed to deliver on her party’s legislative agenda.

“With her leading the way, you never worry about whether a bill will pass,” the president said. “If she says she has the votes, she has the votes. Every time.”

For Republicans, her unabashed pursuit of liberal priorities made her a convenient foil on the campaign trail, and GOP candidates have made her a fixture of attack ads for years. She was one of former President Donald Trump’s fiercest opponents, overseeing both House impeachment proceedings against him. Their fractured relationship was memorably on display after Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020, after which Pelosi tore up a copy of his remarks.

And on Thursday, as she highlighted the legislative achievements of Bush, Obama and Mr. Biden, there was no mention of the 45th president.

In her remarks, Pelosi reflected on the changing demographics of the House membership over her more than three decades in Congress, highlighting the rise in women serving but noting that “we want more.”

“I have seen this body grow more reflective of our great nation, our beautiful nation,” she said. 

While Pelosi said in 2018 that she would limit her term as Democratic leader to four years, a pledge that appeased enough members of her party to secure the speaker’s gavel once more, she has been pushed to reconsider after the “red wave” expected for Republicans did not happen.

The speaker told CNN on Sunday that her Democratic colleagues had asked her to “consider” running in the caucus’ leadership elections, set to begin at the end of the month, but she said any decision on whether to do so will be “rooted in the wishes of my family and the wishes of my caucus.”

Mr. Biden also asked Pelosi to stay in office, telling the California Democrat after she won her own reelection bid that “I hope you stick,” according to Politico.

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