Nov 17, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi's encore

Pelosi and Hakeem Jeffries

Rep. Nancy Pelosi with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Democrats want their longtime leader and the first female speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to break history one more time — and stay intimately involved in House operations.

Why it matters: Pelosi has a store of institutional knowledge on how to govern a sometimes unruly caucus. Democrats will look to her to guide the next generation of leaders while exploiting the GOP's deep divisions and paper-thin majority.

The big picture: It's extremely rare in the modern era for speakers to stay on as rank-and-file members after stepping down from leadership.

  • Following Pelosi to the backbenches are House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who have served in a leadership triumvirate with Pelosi for the last 16 years.
  • Assuming they are replaced by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), as their colleagues expect, the troika's average age will plummet from 83 to 51.

What they're saying: More than a dozen House Democrats told Axios they believe Pelosi's role will be more involved — and complex — than a simple advisory position.

  • "She's not a rank-and-file member. She will never be a rank-and-file member," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a close Pelosi ally. "She's been tested in fire over and over again and always come out without a burn."
  • Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), the chief deputy Democratic whip, told Axios: "She'll have real influence. ... I suspect she'll be called upon regularly."
  • "She has incredible insights and strategic value," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). "So even without a title, we really need to keep her in the game."

Go deeper: Pelosi staying on carries several strategic upsides for Democrats.

  • For one, the former California Democratic Party chair is known for her fundraising prowess. "That may be part of what this arrangement is about," said Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).
  • "She is a juggernaut when it comes to fundraising. And I had been joking earlier in the week that it would take all of us to replace her in that," she added.

House Republicans' razor-thin majority also presents some easy opportunities.

  • By not vacating three House seats, Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn are making life that much harder for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who skipped out on Pelosi's retirement speech.
  • Asked Thursday how she thought McCarthy would perform as the next speaker, Pelosi reportedly told a small group of reporters: "Is he going to be speaker? Are you sure about that?"

Yes, but: Just as there can only be only president at a time, there can only be one party leader. It's unclear if Pelosi will cotton to her new role. Leaders lead; advisers only advise.

What's next: Jeffries dodged questions about whether he plans to run for minority leader, but told reporters: "I think we all hope, in whatever capacity we find ourselves in, we continue to benefit from the wisdom, guidance and advice of Speaker Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi."

  • Most members brushed off concerns about Pelosi being a rival power base that challenges Jeffries' leadership.
  • "I think she just wants to be certain that they're successful, and to the extent she can provide good counsel and resources, she's going to do that," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that Pelosi is not the first speaker since 1955 to retain their House seat after stepping down from leadership. Dennis Hastert served out less than half his term as a member after resigning as speaker in 2007.

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