By Mike Lillis - 11/15/12 12:50 AM EST
Rep. Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday put to rest the swirling speculation about her political future by announcing her intent to remain the House Democratic leader in the next Congress.
The California liberal said her decision, resolved a day earlier, was encouraged by her family, influenced by President Obama’s resounding reelection and bolstered by the feeling that she can influence policy — particularly regarding women’s issues — even from the minority-leader spot.
“My colleagues made it very clear … ‘Don’t even think of leaving,’ ” she added. “From the standpoint of the victory that we had at the polls, I wouldn’t think of walking away.”
Her decision comes after Democrats did better than expected in this year’s House elections, where they picked up at least seven seats (not all the races have been finalized).
And her announcement ended months of questions about whether Pelosi would opt to keep her position as the top House Democrat or pass the leadership baton after a historic 10-year reign that included two terms as the nation’s first female Speaker.
Some political experts, and even some House Democrats, have suggested that Pelosi and her top lieutenants — all septuagenarians — should begin stepping aside to make room for a younger generation of party leaders. But Pelosi on Wednesday dismissed that notion summarily, arguing that the idea itself is “offensive” and wondering why the same standard hasn’t been applied across the aisle.
“You’ve always asked that question, except to Mitch McConnell,” Pelosi quipped, referring to the 70-year-old Senate minority leader.
“I don’t have any concern about that,” she added. “And … you have to take off about 14 years for me, because I was at home raising a family.”
Her decision to keep power — which she announced privately to her caucus Wednesday morning before meeting the press — came with the stipulation that Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), keep that spot in the next Congress.
It was a condition that came as news to Israel, according to a Democratic leadership aide.
“You could see it on his face,” the aide said. “I think he was expecting her to remain leader, but he wasn’t expecting that.”
Still, Israel accepted the offer, and as the day wore on, the other levels of the Democrats’ leadership ladder began to fall into place. Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) announced his bid to remain the Democratic whip; Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) launched a campaign to remain assistant leader; and Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) threw his hat into the ring for the House Democratic Caucus chairmanship.
All of those moves were anticipated, and none of the top four leadership candidates — including Pelosi — are thought to face a serious challenge, even if one were to emerge unexpectedly before the Democrats’ Nov. 29 leadership elections.
Meanwhile, Reps. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) are vying to fill Becerra’s seat as caucus vice chairman.
There are no major staff changes on the horizon in Pelosi’s office, a Pelosi aide said Wednesday.
Liberal Democrats were quick to cheer Pelosi’s decision to remain in power, with Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) praising her as “the most effective leader I’ve served under”; Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) calling her commitment “a great choice”; and Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) arguing that the election results justified her move.
“With so many women coming into the House, it is just appropriate that she continue,” Cummings said.
Other Democrats have different thoughts. Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah) and John Barrow (Ga.), two of a declining number of centrist Blue Dog Democrats, are already vowing to vote against Pelosi in her leadership bid. And a third Blue Dog, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), also seemed ready to withhold his support.
“If we are going to have a chance of winning the majority in the next election, we need to have a bigger tent and a brand with a wider appeal,” Lipinski said Wednesday in an email. “Moderate Democrats need to feel welcome under this tent and must believe that the brand is safe to run with in the districts that we must win in order to gain back the majority.”
Still, the House Democratic Caucus has shifted to the left in recent years, and Pelosi’s popularity with the liberal bloc all but ensures she’ll be leading the party next year.
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. Indeed, on Wednesday she appeared energized at the thought of being on the front lines of those debates, suggesting that Obama’s reelection victory provides her momentum she didn’t have in her policy fights with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Republicans over the last two years.
“We did not have a rejection of President Barack Obama … This is a very, very important decision America made,” Pelosi said. “I don’t want to say it’s better than having the gavel, but it’s … infinitely better than the last term.”
Pelosi also appeared relieved at no longer keeping her political future a secret after months of guessing by observers.
“Decisions,” she said, “are liberating.”
Pelosi has given no indication of whether the 113th Congress will be her last. But if history is any guide, the answer probably won’t be known for two more years.
Erik Wasson and Brian Tam contributed.