The Nancy Pelosi era has come to an end.
After leading Democrats for the past two decades, the House speaker announced Thursday that she will step down next year from her seat at the top of the party, ending a landmark race to become the most powerful woman in U.S. history while clearing the way for a younger generation of up-and-coming lawmakers. to rise into the leadership ranks.
The announcement, which came shortly after midterm results officially handed control of the House to Republicans, sent shockwaves across Capitol Hill as lawmakers from both parties wrestled with the idea of a Democratic House without Pelosi at the helm.
Still, the departure is only partial: Pelosi will relinquish her formal leadership seat but remain in Congress indefinitely, where she aims to take on a mentoring role and smooth the transition for any new leader to fill the mantle. Such a role would be unprecedented in modern memory — most leaders who retire soon leave Congress — but Pelosi is not one to do things by the book.
The floor of the House of Representatives during Pelosi’s speech was a study in partisan contrasts. While her Democratic allies flocked to their side of the chamber, filling nearly every seat, the Republican side of the chamber was virtually empty — a sign of how polarized Congress has become in recent years.
Only a handful of GOP lawmakers attended the speech, including Reps. Joe Wilson (S.C.), Tim Burchett (Tennessee), Doug LaMalfo (Calif.) and Young Kim (Calif.). But the vast majority of Republicans skipped the event, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.). Only one member of the GOP leadership team was in attendance: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LaGandino), who gave Pelosi a standing ovation at the end.
Burchett and LaMalfa later hugged Pelosi.
Her announcement ends a perennial game of speculation surrounding the future of the most powerful lawmaker on Capitol Hill, and she kept them guessing to the last.
After the Democrats stopped the red tide in this year’s election, she was lots of talk that Pelosi can stay in office if she wants to, despite her previous promise to step down at the end of that term.
Ultimately, Pelosi suggested that her decision to withdraw had more to do with the recent attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi, who was beaten with a hammer last month at the family’s San Francisco home by an assailant who police said was targeting the speaker. .
By staying out of the leadership role in Congress, Pelosi can remain influential as an adviser, fundraiser and vote-getter while taking her foot off the gas of her notoriously hectic schedule — a hybrid role that will allow her to spend more time with her recovering husband. .
On Capitol Hill, the changes will be seismic.
Pelassi has led House Democrats since 2003, the longest tenure of any party since the legendary tenure of Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, who died in office in 1961. During these 20 years, it has seen the adoption of some of the most significant legislative achievements of the last half century; raised more than $1.2 billion for the party; and broke the glass ceiling in 2007 when she became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives—a feat she repeated in 2019.
“She is a tough, efficient, purposeful, disciplined woman. I wasn’t always on her side — and it’s not fun to be on her side — but she knew how to bring a disparate group of people together to get the job done,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), a close Pelosi ally , said Thursday morning as Democrats anxiously awaited the speaker’s announcement.
“For women, the door opened wider for all of us because of what she did.”
Along the way, Pelosi helped lead Congress’s response to the Great Recession; led the passage of ObamaCare; provided trillions of dollars in emergency relief for the COVID-19 pandemic; and decided to impeach former President Trump, not once, but twice.
Pelosi also launched a special investigation into the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the results of which could reverberate through the legal and political worlds for years to come.
“I am not a historian of the House of Representatives, but what I hear from historians of the House of Representatives is [she’s] probably the strongest House speaker we’ve seen in many, many, many years,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), another close Pelosi ally.
“It’s those values, her strategic ability, her knowledge of the system, how to negotiate, all of that really came together in one person that created an incredible legislative legacy,” she continued. “And that’s where her strength lies. … Someone who knows how to get from A to B with a very diverse crowd.”
This year’s midterm elections will be part of that legacy. Before last week’s election, Republicans expected a defeat that would give them a large majority in the battle against President Biden during the final two years of his first term. Instead, Democrats were able to hold on to dozens of up-and-coming seats in battleground districts, limiting Republican wins and making it harder for GOP leaders to govern next year.
“It really cements her legacy as the most accomplished speaker in U.S. history by any measure — by any measure,” Ashley Etienne, Pelosi’s former communications director, said of Pelosi’s role in the Democratic midterms. “There is no question.”
Pelosi’s decision closes the bottleneck that has existed at the top of the Democratic caucus since 2003, when she and her top deputy, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Med.), took the top spots. Representative James Clyburn (DS.C.) joined them in 2006 in the #3 slot, where he remains.
Neither Hoyer nor Clyburn ruled out remaining in power in the next Congress. But a younger group of up-and-coming Democrats are looking to climb the leadership ladder or simply join the ranks.
The three current leadership members — Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (N-Y), Kathryn Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif) — are expected to begin bids for higher seats at their earliest opportunity.
Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is considered the favorite to replace Pelosi. And Rep. Joyce Beatty (R-Ohio), who heads the Black Caucus, predicted Thursday that every member of the caucus would support Jeffries.
But Hoyer, nearly 20 years behind Pelosi, has raised tens of millions of dollars for the party over the years, building a loyal following along the way.
Updated at 1:02 p.m