Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it’s her last
Rep. Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that her next term as Speaker will be her last, making good on a promise she’d made in 2018 to relinquish power after the next midterm elections.
“I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have,” she told reporters in the Capitol, “but I made the statement.”
The comments came shortly after House Democrats had voted privately to nominate Pelosi (D-Calif.) to serve another two years at the top of a party she’s led since 2003, marking the longest stretch since the legendary Rep. Sam Rayburn (Texas) died in office in 1961.
Faced with an internal revolt in 2018 from moderate Democrats pushing for a leadership overhaul, Pelosi had won the support of her detractors in part by vowing to keep the gavel no more than two additional terms. A resolution formally adopting those conditions was abandoned last year without a caucus vote, but Pelosi said she stands by them nonetheless.
“What I said then is whether it passes or not I will abide by those limits,” she said.
House Democrats are choosing their leadership team this week on the heels of a dispiriting election cycle when they’d expected significant gains to pad their majority in the 117th Congress. Instead, they lost at least 10 incumbent seats, failed to pick off any Republicans seeking reelection and now face their slimmest majority since World War II.
Even so, Pelosi’s nomination on Wednesday was never in doubt. She ran unopposed, she has raised historic amounts of money for the party and her fiery confrontations with President Trump over the last four years have won the praise of even her sharpest Democratic critics.
To secure the gavel, Pelosi, 80, will still need to secure a majority of the full House in January.
Yet the Speaker has already won the support of several of her previous critics, and she’s expected to rally enough votes to win the gavel for another term, when Democrats are hoping to advance an ambitious legislative slate under incoming President Joe Biden.
Several Democrats said Pelosi’s path was cleared by a shared interest within the party to avoid a dramatic internal House fight, which would distract from Biden’s transition to the White House and empower Republicans already thrilled by their overperformance at the polls this cycle.
In a speech accepting the nomination, Pelosi vowed to work with the Biden administration to tackle a host of issues Democrats had promised on the campaign trail, including expanding access to health care, strengthening environmental protections, reforming police practices and bridging the vast racial disparities in the economy.
“The theme, I think, of what we do next has to be about justice,” she told the caucus.
The caucus on Wednesday also reelected Pelosi’s top lieutenants, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is credited with helping Biden win the Palmetto State and the party’s nomination that put the former vice president on a path to the White House. Hoyer, 81, and Clyburn, 80, both ran unopposed.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), viewed among Democrats as the heir apparent to Pelosi, also ran unopposed and won a second term as House Democratic Caucus chairman, putting him in prime position to climb the leadership ladder once the old guard — Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn — steps aside.
Some centrists had tried to draft Jeffries to challenge Pelosi for Speaker after House Democrats’ election night drubbing, but the Brooklyn native and Pelosi loyalist didn’t entertain the idea.
“We are unified in our sense of purpose to go out to work closely with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to fight for the people,” Jeffries said after his reelection, “to make life better for working families, middle-class folks, senior citizens, young people, veterans, those who aspire to be part of the middle class, the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the least, the lost and the left behind. That’s what House Democrats do.”
In the one contested race of the day, Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) proved successful in climbing a couple rungs up the leadership ladder. She defeated Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the head of the Democrats’ policy and messaging arm, in the race for assistant Speaker, the No. 4 leadership spot. Early next year, she will succeed Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who is heading to the Senate, and maintain her place as the second highest ranking woman in the caucus behind Pelosi.
The only other competitive race that will be decided this week is for caucus vice chair. That contest Thursday pits Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, against Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The race for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair has been postponed until the week after Thanksgiving to give the candidates, Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), more time to campaign and lock down votes.