WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she would not seek a leadership position in the new Congress, a crucial realignment that is making way for a new generation of leaders after Democrats took control of the Senate in the midterm elections lost the House of Representatives to the Republicans.
Pelosi announced in a spirited House speech that she would be stepping down after nearly 20 years as the leading Democrat and after last month’s brutal attack on her husband Paul at their San Francisco home.
“Now we have to boldly move into the future,” Pelosi said. “The hour for a new generation has come.”
The California Democrat, who became the country’s first woman to wield the speaker’s gavel, said she will remain in Congress as San Francisco’s representative, a position she has held for 35 years when the new Congress meets in January.
It’s an unusual decision for a party leader to stay on after retiring from congressional leadership, but one befitting Pelosi, who has long defied convention to pursue power in Washington.
Pelosi noted in a statement after The Associated Press called for control of the chamber that House Democrats will have “a strong hold over a narrow Republican majority” in the next Congress.
Democrats cheered Pelosi when she arrived in the chamber at noon. In the short term, lawmakers filled the House of Representatives, at least on the Democratic side, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer followed suit. The speakers gallery filled with Pelosi staff and guests. Some Republicans, including some newly elected members, also attended.
As the first woman to become Speaker and the only person to be elected to that role twice in decades, she has guided Democrats through momentous moments, including passing the Affordable Care Act with President Barack Obama and impeaching President Donald Trump .
By announcing her decision, Pelosi could trigger a domino effect in the House Democrat leadership ahead of next month’s internal party elections as the Democrats reorganize as a minority party for the new Congress.
Pelosis’ leadership team of Maryland Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn has long been a triumvirate. Hoyer and Clyburn are also making decisions about their futures.
The three leaders of House Democrats, all now in their 80s, faced restless peers eager for them to step aside and allow a new generation to take charge.
Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Pete Aguilar of California have similarly moved as a trio, all working to become the next generation of leaders. Jeffries could make history if he runs to become the first black Speaker of the House of the Nation.
One idea floating around on Capitol Hill was that Pelosi and the others could emerge as leaders emeritus as they pass the baton to new Democrats.
Clyburn, the senior black American in Congress, has said he has no interest in being a minority spokesman or leader at this point in his life but expects to remain in Congress next year.
“I want to stay at the executive table,” Clyburn said a week after the midterms. “What capacity that will be, I leave to our democratic caucus.”
Hoyer has not publicly commented on his plans.
Pelosi, first elected in 1987, was a key figure in American politics, long derided by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal while steadily rising as a veteran lawmaker and fundraising powerhouse. Her own Democratic peers have at times appreciated but also feared her strong leadership.
Pelosi first became Speaker in 2007 and said she cracked the “marble ceiling” after Democrats rose to power in the 2006 midterm elections in backlash against then-President George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When she was ready to return as a public speaker in 2018, she vowed to “show the power of the hammer” in the Trump era.
Pelosi has repeatedly weathered leadership challenges over the years and in 2018 suggested that she would serve four more years as a leader. But she hadn’t discussed those plans recently.
Typically unsentimental, Pelosi evinced a rare moment of emotion on the eve of the midterms when she held back tears as she spoke about the grievous assault on her husband after nearly 60 years.
Paul Pelosi suffered a fractured skull after an intruder broke into her home in the middle of the night looking for the Democratic leader. The intruder’s question — “Where’s Nancy?” — echoed the chants of pro-Trump rioters in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 as they hunted for Pelosi and tried to block Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump .
David DePape is being held without bail on attempted murder and other charges in what authorities have described as a political assault. Police said DePape broke in and woke Paul Pelosi, and the two fought over a hammer before DePape hit the 82-year-old in the head. DePape, 42, has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges of attempting to kidnap a federal officer and assaulting a family member of a federal officer.
Paul Pelosi was in hospital for a week but is expected to recover, although his wife has said it will be a long road.
At the time, Speaker Pelosi did not want to discuss her political plans, only disclosing that the attack on her husband would affect her decision.
Historians have noted that other major political figures have had careers as ordinary members of Congress, including John Quincy Adams, the former President who served in Congress for nearly 18 years.
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