By Mike Lillis - 11/14/12 02:21 PM EST
Rep. Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday that she will stay on as House Democratic leader in the next Congress.
The California Democrat had remained mum about that decision all year, fueling speculation that she might relinquish power and raising questions about the party's direction after a decade under her reign.
According to a House leadership aide, "Leader Pelosi told a packed caucus meeting, including the incoming members of the 113th Congress today that, if [Rep.] Steve Israel is willing to take on the DCCC again, then she will happily place her hat in for leader."
Pelosi used the caucus meeting to trumpet the arrival of almost 50 newly elected Democrats, the aide said.
"They say a picture is worth a million words. Well, this picture is worth millions of aspirations of the American people," Pelosi told the caucus, according to the aide. "This new class makes our caucus historic — the first time in legislative history that a caucus will be a majority of women and minorities.
"We may not have the gavel," she added, "but as I can see in this room, we have the unity."
Her decision suggests that, despite enormous Democratic losses in 2010, and only modest gains at the polls this year, Pelosi remains confident she can sway policy next year even from the House minority leader spot.
Her role could be particularly pronounced in the next Congress, as policymakers are expected to seek a grand bargain on deficit reduction that will necessarily focus on tax and entitlement reform — two issues in which Pelosi has long taken a special interest.
Several Democrats immediately praised Pelosi's decision to stay on.
"Nancy Pelosi is the most effective leader I've served under and I think she will bring us back to victory and give us guidance on how to work to solve the nation's problems working with Republicans on a bipartisan basis," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said.
Democrats said there was no opposition to Pelosi staying and they are confident she can be Speaker again one day.
"She likes to fight," Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who lost his seat, said.
Liberal groups, which have been wary that Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip who was expected to replace Pelosi had she stepped down, would be too quick to cut entitlement programs in order to solidify a bipartisan deficit deal, were quick to cheer her decision.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Nancy Pelosi," Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Wednesday in an email. "The mandate of the election was to tax the rich and protect programs like Medicare and Social Security from benefit cuts. Steny Hoyer would likely not have respected that mandate, but given her track record, we have high hopes for Nancy Pelosi."
Leaving the caucus meeting, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called Pelosi's decision "a great choice."
But Republicans, who have been successful in demonizing Pelosi in regional campaigns, also welcomed her decision.
“There is no better person to preside over the most liberal House Democratic Caucus in history than the woman who is solely responsible for relegating it to a prolonged minority status," Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said in an email. "This decision signals that House Democrats have absolutely no interest in regaining the trust and confidence of the American people who took the Speaker’s gavel away from Nancy Pelosi in the first place.”
Waxman chastised Republicans for their reaction to the Pelosi announcement.
"It sounds like they are reverting to partisanship when they should be reaching out," he said.
Pelosi still needs to be elected by the members of her caucus to keep her spot, but there are no apparent challengers, and Pelosi's popularity in the party all but ensures that she'd win the contest if one were to emerge.
Younger Democrats in the House have privately complained over the last couple of years about the lack of openings in the leadership hierarchy. Pelosi's move, while championed by many House Democrats, is likely to lead to more grumbling from certain factions in the caucus.
The announcement likely means that the Democrats' leadership structure will remain largely unchanged next year, with Pelosi and her leading lieutenants — Reps. Hoyer and James Clyburn (S.C.) — retaining the top three spots.
Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraTop Hispanic Dem tears into Trump The Trail 2016: Her big night The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Calif.) is widely expected to move from vice chairman to chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, replacing Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), whose term expires at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Jared Polis (D-Col.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) are vying to fill Becerra's seat as caucus vice chairman.
Pelosi's comments suggest that Israel (N.Y.) will stay on as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
The Democrats' leadership elections are scheduled for Nov. 29.
Pelosi's decision extends a historic era. Elected to Congress in a special election in 1987, she rose quickly through the ranks, scoring a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee before besting Hoyer for the minority whip seat in 2001.
A year later, she rose to the minority leader spot — a seat left open when Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) launched a presidential bid — to become the first woman to lead either party in the lower chamber.
She's been the Democratic leader ever since, rising to the Speaker position following the 2006 wave elections that swept the Democrats into the House majority after 12 years in the wilderness. From that perch she ushered through some of the most significant, and controversial, legislation in decades, including President Obama's healthcare reform law, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and a climate change bill that Senate Democrats never took up.
Along the way, Pelosi have proven herself one of the most effective fundraisers on Capitol Hill. Since becoming Democratic whip in 2002, she has raised $328 million for her party, including more than $85 million in the most recent election cycle alone.
Erik Wasson contributed to this story.
This story was last updated at 11:38 a.m.