Updated Nov 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi stepping down as House Democratic leader after 20 years

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the iconic San Francisco liberal who has led congressional Democrats for two decades and broke the glass ceiling as the first woman to control the House of Representatives, said on Thursday she'll step aside as leader at the end of the 117th Congress.

Driving the news: "Never did I think I’d go from homemaker to House Speaker," Pelosi said, wearing her Mace of the Republic brooch and a suffragette white suit.

Why it matters: Pelosi is 82. Her seismic decision is expected to pave the way for a new generation of Democratic leadership — albeit in the minority.

  • In an emotional and historic speech on the floor Thursday afternoon, Pelosi announced she will not run again for leadership, though she plans to remain in the House as a lawmaker.
  • She also made way for the new guard, declaring, “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I greatly respect.”

What we're watching: Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), 52, is seen by many colleagues as Pelosi's natural successor, Axios reported Wednesday evening.

  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), 83, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), 82, said in statements they will follow Pelosi's lead and step away from their leadership roles while remaining in Congress.
  • They are expected to be succeeded by Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), 59, and Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), 43, respectively.

The big picture: Pelosi's leadership spans 12 years as minority leader and eight as speaker — and has outlasted three Republican counterparts. She's the first speaker to oversee two House votes to impeach a president — in 2019 and 2021, both against Donald Trump.

  • Her announcement comes a day after control of the House was called for Republicans, with the narrowest of majorities.
  • It also follows a grisly attack on her husband described as an act of political violence by an assailant looking for her.
  • The decision honors a deal Pelosi struck with a faction of House Democrats in 2018 to serve only two more terms leading her Democratic colleagues.

What they're saying: "The Speaker and I have disagreed frequently and forcefully over the years, but I have seen firsthand the depth and intensity of her commitment to public service," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement late Thursday.

  • "There is no question that the impact of Speaker Pelosi’s consequential and path-breaking career will long endure."

How we got here: When she first ascended to the minority leader role in 2003, Pelosi, a mother of five, became the first woman to lead a major party in Congress. She made history again in 2007 when she became the first female House speaker.

  • She shepherded the Affordable Care Act through the House as speaker during the Obama administration and navigated a razor-thin majority in the last two years to help President Biden pass several landmark spending bills, as well as gun control legislation.

Between the lines: Pelosi's persona is larger than life — a wealthy, glamorous, chocolate-obsessed, power-suited grandma who has wielded unmatched fundraising prowess and whose flashy smile belies an iron grip.

  • She has been a favorite target of demonization by Republicans — but the unflinching boss of her own caucus.
  • She is known by colleagues as a rare political double threat: a powerhouse fundraiser thanks to her days leading the California Democratic Party and a skilled legislative tactician who can often be relied upon to whip the votes she needs.

The bottom line: Pelosi will not be easily replaced as the Democrats' leader in Congress. But stepping aside now may be her best chance to guide her party's next chapter.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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