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BREAKING: Nancy Pelosi to step aside as the top House Democrat
“For me the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” the first woman to serve as House Speaker told her members on Thursday afternoon.
Nancy Pelosi on Thursday afternoon announced that she will step aside as Speaker, a decision that will end her two-decade run as the top House Democrat.
In a floor speech using a House custom known as the “magic minute” that allows party leaders to speak for as long as they wish, Pelosi told her members that she intends to remain a member of Congress but will not seek re-election to Democratic leadership in the next Congress.
The decision will now make room for a significant change of the guard that could make the caucus younger and more diverse and responsive of the Democratic Party’s grassroots base.
“For me the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House Speaker, said during her remarks. “And I’m grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
The rumor mill had been churning for the past year with speculation that Speaker Pelosi could retire from public service if Democrats lost the House after last week’s midterm elections. And after the recent attack on her husband Paul by a conspiracy theorist who broke into the Pelosi’s house looking for Nancy, she said that said her decision would be impacted by the incident.
But Democratic incumbents and candidates outperformed expectations and prevented Republicans from generating a so-called “red wave” despite historical trends, inflation and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings working against them.
This led to even more talk that Pelosi, known for her extraordinary legislative instincts and exacting ability to count votes, could stick around for two more years to navigate another two years with what she described in a statement on Wednesday evening as “strong leverage over a scant Republican majority.” (Republicans officially won the House last night but will likely have no more than a three- or four-seat majority to advance their legislative agenda; Democrats will still control the Senate though, and President Biden has promised to veto any bills that attempt to undo the progress his administration and congressional Democrats have made the past two years.)
But rank-and-file members have been pining for new blood since they reclaimed the majority in 2018. House Democrats have been led by a three-person gerontocracy dating back to my sophomore year of high school: Pelosi (82), Leader Steny Hoyer (83) and Whip Jim Clyburn (82). (FYI, the speaker is the presiding officer of the US House of Representatives, while the leader decides which bills will be put on the floor for a vote and the whip makes sure the party has the votes for or against a piece of legislation based on leadership’s preferences.) Pelosi committed at the time that she would leave her post after four years if they re-elected her as Speaker. And last month, Pelosi acknowledged that the party needs generational change to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell but also argued that sometimes there’s no substitute for experience.
Her announcement honors that commitment and gives younger members and progressives uninspired by incrementalism an opportunity to remake party leadership in their image. FWIW, President Biden reportedly encouraged Pelosi to stay during a private phone call last week while Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he hoped she would remain as leader before adding, “I love her.” And as proof of how weighty the decision was for Pelosi, last night she reportedly took home two versions of the speech she planned to deliver to her members today.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark are seen as the next generation of party leaders. If elected to leadership, they would reflect the diversity that Democrats see as their biggest electoral asset: Jeffries (52) is Black, Aguilar (43) is Latino and Clark (59) is a woman.
Jeffries has broad support among the caucus, the legislative instincts to discern when to choose compromise over intransigence, and the media savvy required to compress the party’s message into buzzy soundbites. Aguilar is a well-respected rising star who has served on three of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Appropriations, Administration and the panel investigating the January 6th attack. Clark has been a leader on social issues like abortion rights, paid family leave, and gender equality, which would serve the party well as it continues to paint the Republicans as extreme culture warriors. And all three are effective fundraisers, another prerequisite for congressional leadership.
The downside to the younger trio is that Jeffries and Aguilar represent New York and California districts respectively. Pelosi’s district is also in California along with Kevin McCarthy, who is in pursuit of the speaker’s gavel. And Leader Schumer also reps New York, which means the top two Democrats would hail from the same state. Clark is from Massachusetts, another coastal state as well. This may frustrate a handful of Democrats who would prefer to see a bit more geographic diversity in the top ranks.
Meanwhile, Hoyer and Clyburn, who would be next in line based on the current hierarchy, have said they’re not on Pelosi’s timeline and have no intention of stepping down from leadership. It seems Hoyer is more interested in rising to the top spot than Clyburn is in moving up. And even though Democrats had a strong election, progressives are still expected to push for a youth infusion.
House Democratic Caucus leadership elections will be held on November 30. In addition to the top spots, members will also vote on several other positions that could elevate even more Black, women and LGBTQ members. House Republicans held their leadership elections earlier this week. Kevin McCarthy was nominated for speaker and has about six weeks to shore up the 218 votes he’ll need to succeed Pelosi. Steve Scalise of Louisiana will serve as House Republican Leader, McCarthy’s current role, and Tom Emmer of Minnesota won his bid to be the party’s whip for the next two years.
Across the Capitol rotunda, Senate Democrats will elect their leaders on December 8, but they’ll maintain the status quo except for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who is expected to vacate her Assistant Democratic Leader spot to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee and join the presidential line of succession.
Senate Republicans on Wednesday afternoon re-elected their top leaders, including Mitch McConnell, who will become the longest-serving Senate leader in US history and Whip John Thune and Conference Chair John Barrasso, seen as two top candidates to replace McConnell whenever he decides to follow in Pelosi’s footsteps and call it quits.