By Mike Lillis - 01/31/14 06:00 AM EST
The retirement of two of Nancy Pelosi's closest confidants is raising questions about whether the House Democratic leader's reign could be nearing an end.
The pending departures of Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman mean Pelosi will have to do without her most trusted lieutenants if she decides to run again as Democratic leader.
One former Democratic leadership aide described the loss as “a substantial changing of the guard” – a transition stirring speculation Pelosi will not stay on as leader despite her insistence that her work is not done.
“I have to think she's gone in '15 since it does not look like they take the House back,” the former leadership aide said.
Hours after Waxman announced his retirement, Pelosi said she was running for reelection and had already started the paperwork process.
Yet many Democrats read little into that decision.
They say that Pelosi leaving in 2014 was never a realistic option. She’s been a whirlwind fundraiser this Congress, breaking all previous records for the party with a $35 million haul in 2013 alone, according to her office. If she stepped aside, the morale for already out-of-power Democrats would crater.
Pelosi’s inner circle insists that the wave of veteran retirements — which also includes another friend in Northern Virginia Rep. Jim Moran (D) — is no indication she's also on her way out.
One source close to the minority leader said the exodus “says nothing” about her future plans.
“Pelosi isn't in Congress on a shift, but on a mission,” the source said. “She's raising record amounts of money and member dues participation is at 88 percent. She focused on hitting the trail hard and with her help the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] is out-raising every other campaign committee. We will have the resources to put the House in play.”
Moran said Thursday that the string of retirements won't “diminish in any way” Pelosi's influence or effectiveness on Capitol Hill.
“Life goes on,” Moran said by phone.
Moran argued that the Democrats have plenty of talented young lawmakers ready to step in to fill the void created by the retiring veterans, which could make it easier for Pelosi to stay. Still, the 12-term Virginian acknowledged that it will be near-impossible to replace the institutional knowledge set to walk out the door.
"We do have a strong bench," Moran said. "But people like Henry and George, they are irreplaceable."
The 73-year-old Pelosi is famously private about her future plans, ever-insisting that she's focused on the current year's business — both the politics and the policy — but not beyond.
She defied the prognosticators who thought she would step out of leadership after the disastrous 2010 elections, which saw the Democrats lose 63 seats and control of the Speaker's gavel. And Pelosi disregarded the skeptics once more in 2012, when the Democrats picked up eight seats but not enough to retake the lower chamber.
A number of Democratic sources on and off Capitol Hill are guessing a potential presidential run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would keep Pelosi – a tireless voice for women's empowerment – around at least through 2016.
“The first woman Speaker of the House would want to help the first woman president of the United States,” said one Democratic aide. “I don't see anything that shows she's heading for the exits.”
A second House Democratic aide echoed that message, saying it's "highly doubtful" Pelosi would step down ahead of a potential Clinton run.
"We're about to come up on an historic election, so it would be a strange time to throw in the towel," the aide said.
Pelosi herself has been effusive in praising Clinton ahead of what would be her second run for the White House.
“I pray that Hillary Clinton decides to run for president of the United States,” Pelosi said last May in Arkansas, comments that suggest she is excited at the possibility she could be a House ally of the first female president — assuming Clinton runs and wins.
Pelosi said Clinton “would be the most qualified person to enter the White House in modern history.”
“Now, that she happens to be a woman -- that is a spectacular thing,” Pelosi said.