On Thursday, Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi strode into the Capitol wearing suffragette white (and one of her favorite brooches) to announce that she will not seek a leadership position for the next term of the House of Representatives, but will remain a rank-and-file member of Congress. Her highly anticipated announcement comes after Democrats narrowly lost their majority in the House following the midterm elections, and following a vicious attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi, in October, which left the 82-year-old with a fractured skull and injuries to his hand and arm.
Facing her colleagues in the chamber, Pelosi said, “For me, the hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect.” Shedding a few tears along the way, she spoke about her reverence for elected office, her upbringing, and her own career trajectory, which took her from a homemaker with five children to becoming a path-breaking political powerhouse. Pelosi’s eight-year tenure as speaker—split over two separate periods of Democratic House control—was nothing short of historic: She became the first female speaker of the House in 2007, then assumed the role again in 2019 during a blue wave under former President Donald Trump. She’s served under four different presidents in various roles*: She has been the Democratic House whip. She was an architect of the Affordable Care Act. And most recently, she showed her master negotiator skills in getting President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act passed. Not to mention she is something of a historic fundraising machine, raising over $1.2 billion since she entered leadership. There’s no doubt Pelosi has been a consistent towering figure within the Democratic Party.
During her speech on Thursday, the entire chamber was on its feet, applauding the speaker (including some Republicans.) There was no sign of the next House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who has a notoriously fraught relationship with Pelosi—let’s not forget the California Republican once joked about wanting to hit the speaker with a wooden gavel in order to maintain order in the House. But many other political leaders turned up, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise.
Despite the theatrics—her deputy chief of staff said, on Twitter, that she had gone home with two very different speeches last night, implying that Pelosi had still not not made her decision as of yesterday—Pelosi’s announcement wasn’t all too surprising. She pledged in 2018 that she would limit herself to just four more years as the Democratic Party’s leader. That was likely prompted after 16 Democrats went public with their opposition to reelecting Pelosi as speaker of the House in an effort to compel her to step aside and let newer (and younger) faces helm the party.
Pelosi’s loyal 80-something-year-old sidekicks also quickly followed her announcement Thursday with ones of their own. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip Jim Clyburn also announced they will be stepping aside. Hoyer went as far as giving his endorsement to New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who’s currently chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and has been eagerly waiting in the wings to jump up the leadership ladder. Other contenders for top leadership positions within the House Democrats include Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark and California’s Pete Aguilar.
As Pelosi receded from power (in an official capacity), the 82-year-old is well aware of her influence. Speaking with CNN’s State of the Union just days ago, she said: “There are all kinds of ways to exert influence. The speaker has awesome power, but I will always have influence.”
Correction, Nov. 17, 2022: This piece originally misstated the number of presidents Nancy Pelosi served under in House leadership roles. She served under four presidents, not three.