House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Thursday that she will step down from leadership, a seismic change for Democrats that ends her historic 20-year run atop the caucus and clears the path ahead for a new generation of leaders to take the helm.
“I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” she said in a speech on the House floor. She said she’ll continue to represent her San Francisco district, but will step back from her leadership post.
“For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” Pelosi said. “And I’m grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
The California Democrat announced her decision after weeks of breathless speculation about her future plans. She wore all white and her signature power brooch representing the Mace of the Republic, which symbolizes the legislative authority of the House of Representatives.
Pelosi’s news means uncharted waters ahead for the House Democratic Caucus, which has been led by the same trio of people since 2003, all of whom are now in their 80s.
But the heirs apparent are already falling into place. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who currently chairs the Democratic Caucus, is widely seen as Pelosi’s successor. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) respectively, have long been discussed as his deputies.
Pelosi’s longtime top deputies, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), didn’t waste time laying out their plans.
Hoyer is following Pelosi’s path: stepping down from Democratic leadership but staying in Congress. Clyburn, meanwhile, reportedly wants to stay in leadership but as assistant Democratic leader. That would rank him just below the new top three leaders.
This changing of the guard is quickly falling into place ahead of House Democrats’ leadership elections on Nov. 30.
The California Democrat made history in 2007 when she became the first woman to serve as speaker of the House. She made history again in 2019 when she was elected speaker for a second time, making her the first person to do so in more than 60 years.
Her prized legislative accomplishments as speaker include passage of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health care plan that Pelosi arguably brought back from the brink of defeat and helped usher into law in 2010. She was also instrumental in passing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, which overhauled financial regulation after the 2008 financial crisis, and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010.
More recently, she helped push through the American Rescue Plan in 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package that helped speed up the country’s recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During her Thursday speech, Pelosi became emotional as she thanked colleagues for their support in the aftermath of a violent attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi, in their San Francisco home late last month. She called him her “pillar of support,” and stood silently for several seconds amid a standing ovation.
Her decision to step back from leadership comes a week after Democrats’ stunning performance in last week’s midterm elections. Instead of getting clobbered at the polls in what many predicted would be a “red wave,” Democrats defeated Republicans in competitive races and defied history by doing so well amid high inflation and at a time when their party’s president is in the White House. Republicans will still retake the House in January, but barely.
Prominent Democrats made it clear they wanted Pelosi to stick around. President Joe Biden reportedly asked Pelosi directly to stay for another two years. When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was asked Monday if he thought she should stay in her post as House Democratic leader, he responded, “I hope she does. I love her.”
Schumer was among those in the House for Pelosi’s remarks, along with virtually all House Democrats. Just one GOP leader was spotted in attendance, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Tributes began pouring in almost immediately after Pelosi’s announcement.
“When I think of Nancy Pelosi, I think of dignity,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history.”
He added, “As a nation, we owe her a deep debt of gratitude for her service, her patriotism, and above all, her absolute dignity.”
Biden also personally called Pelosi earlier Thursday to congratulate her on her “historic tenure” as speaker, per the White House.