Nancy Pelosi announced she will step down as House Democratic leader, ending her history-making tenure as the first woman to serve as speaker and opening the way for a generational change in her party’s congressional leadership.
“I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi said Thursday on the House floor. “The hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect.”
She said she plans to remain in the House representing her San Francisco district.
Pelosi, 82, is leaving the post as Republicans are set to take control of the House in January after winning the majority in the midterm election. She has led House Democrats for almost two decades, encompassing two stretches as speaker under four presidents.
A fierce legislative tactician and prolific fundraiser, Pelosi was instrumental in securing signature achievements for Democratic presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden, held together a fractious caucus strained by tensions between progressives and centrists and emerged as a preeminent villain to the political right. She cites the Affordable Care Act and Inflation Reduction Act as her proudest achievements.
New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, 52, is widely considered Pelosi’s heir apparent. He would be the first African-American to lead a party in Congress. Jeffries has been the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus since 2019. He’s also taken on other leadership roles, most notably as one of seven House managers in the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said she expects the group would rally behind Jeffries for the job of House minority leader in the next Congress.
Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island said Jeffries “has demonstrated tremendous talent.”
Other Democrats expected to seek leadership roles are Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark, 59, who is the No. 4 House Democrat, and California Representative Pete Aguilar, 43. Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, 57, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also said she may seek a leadership post.
Pelosi’s departure triggered wider changes for House Democrats, who had been led by three octogenarians.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, said in a statement that he wouldn’t seek a leadership post in the next Congress, but will remain as a representative from Maryland. Hoyer said he would “help in any way I can” with the new leadership team. Majority Whip James Clyburn, 82, said in a statement he would back Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar for the top spots, without giving an indication of his next step.
Biden spoke with Pelosi earlier in the day to congratulate her on her historic run as speaker of the House, according to the White House.
Pelosi’s decision was shrouded in secrecy. Her spokesman tried to shoot down reports purportedly outlining what she had planned, and many senior lawmakers said before she appeared on the House floor that they didn’t know what Pelosi would do.
Wearing white, an homage to the womens’ suffrage movement, Pelosi was greeted with applause and cheers from Democrats when she opened the session. After a series of short speeches by other lawmakers on a wide range of topics, Pelosi took the floor.
She recalled seeing the Capitol for the first time as a six-year-old child while driving to Washington with her family after her father was reelected to the House, representing a district in her hometown of Baltimore.
“I believed then as I believe today, this is the most beautiful building in the world because of what it represents,” Pelosi said. “The Capitol is a temple of our democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.”
Pelosi said she “enjoyed working with three presidents, achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush, transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama, and forging the future — from infrastructure, to health care, to climate action — with President Joe Biden” — notably leaving out the fourth president she interacted with in that span, Trump.
Members of both parties paid tribute to Pelosi.
“She is one of the giants of American history” Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell said. “She’s tough, she listens, she delivers.”
Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, said Pelosi has been a partisan speaker, but a “very effective” one.
The view of Pelosi among House Republicans “ranges from respect to grudging respect,” he said. “It’s like admiring the best player on the team that you hate.”
There is precedent for Pelosi’s path. In November 2006, after Republicans lost control of the House, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert didn’t run for re-election as party leader but said he would continue in Congress to devote himself to the “full-time task” of representing his Illinois constituents. After nearly a year as a backbencher, he resigned from Congress the following November.
Much of the pressure for change has come from the Democrats who were elected in the 2018 midterms that returned control of Congress to Democrats and the speakership to Pelosi after eight years in the minority.
Pelosi acquiesced to a term-limit demand from factions within her caucus when she regained the speaker post in 2019 and committed not to seek a leadership position beyond the current congressional term. Still, she had recently deflected questions about whether she intended to keep that pledge.
Representative Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat elected in the 2018 wave, said Pelosi’s exit from leadership “absolutely” creates an opening for caucus rules changes that he and other relatively new members have been pushing.
“I think now we have a grand opportunity to effect some of those changes, which is not just in the best interest of this caucus, but of the Congress and the country,” Phillips said. “We’re all seeking more opportunities for participation, mechanisms for more voices to be heard, more opportunities for the next generation of leaders to rise and to make this institution operate more effectively, efficiently and expeditiously.”
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