House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that she will relinquish her leadership post after leading House Democrats for two decades, building a legacy as one of the most powerful and polarizing figures in American politics.
Pelosi, the first and only woman to serve as speaker, said that she would continue to serve in the House, giving the next generation the opportunity to lead the House Democrats, who will be in the minority next year despite a better-than-expected midterm election performance.
“I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” said Pelosi in the House chamber. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect, and I’m grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
Pelosi, 82, rose to the top of the House Democratic caucus in 2002, after leading many in her party against a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. She then guided Democrats as they rode the waves of popular opinion, seeing their power swell to a 257-seat majority after the 2008 elections, ultimately crash to a 188-seat minority, and then rise once again.
Her political career was marked by an extraordinary ability to understand and overcome those political shifts, keeping conflicting factions of her party united in passing major legislation. She earned the Speaker’s gavel twice – after the 2006 and 2018 elections – and lost it after the 2010 elections.
Of late, she has conducted a string of accomplishments with one of the slimmest party splits in history, passing a $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package last year and a $750 billion health care, energy and climate bill in August.
Her legislative victories in the Biden era cemented her reputation as one of the most successful party leaders in Congress. During the Obama administration, Pelosi was instrumental to the passage of the massive economic stimulus bill and the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which provides over 35 million Americans health care coverage.
Over the past 20 years, the California liberal has been relentlessly attacked by Republicans, who portray her as the personification of a party for the coastal elite. “We have fired Nancy Pelosi,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Fox News on Wednesday, after Republicans won back the chamber.
In recent years, the anger directed toward her has turned menacing. During the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, pro-Trump rioters searched for her — and last month, a male assailant attacked Paul Pelosi, the speaker’s husband, with a hammer at the couple’s home in San Francisco, while she was in Washington.
Pelosi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper this month that her decision to retire would be influenced by the politically motivated attack. Paul Pelosi was released from the hospital two weeks ago after surgery to repair a skull fracture and injuries to his arm and hands.
After thanking her colleagues for their well-wishes for Paul, the House chamber broke out into a standing ovation.
Democrats now look to finally choose Pelosi’s successor
Pelosi’s long reign became a source of tension within her own party. She won the gavel after the 2018 elections by promising her own party that she would leave her leadership post by 2022.
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who previously tried to oust Pelosi, told CNN it’s time for a new chapter.
“She’s a historic speaker who’s accomplished an incredible amount, but I also think there are a lot of Democrats ready for a new chapter,” said Moulton.
But some Democrats praised Pelosi and said they wished she would remain leader. Asked about her decision, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer clutched his chest and said he had pleaded with her to stay.
“I told her when she called me and told me this and all that, I said ‘please change your mind. We need you here,’” Schumer said.
House Democrats appear likely to choose New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 52, to succeed Pelosi as leader, though Democrats won’t vote until November 30.