After Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans in the midterm elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that she will not run for office in the new Congress, capping a historic tenure as the first woman to hold the gavel and paving the way for a new generation to lead the party.
After nearly 20 years of heading the Democratic Party, in the wake of the vicious attack on her husband, Paul, last month in their San Francisco home, and after having completed “the people’s work,” Pelosi declared in a fiery speech on the House floor that she will resign down.
The influential California Democrat, who has served as a representative for San Francisco in Congress for 35 years and is arguably the most powerful speaker in modern history, said that she would continue to serve in that capacity when the new Congress convenes in January.
Pelosi appeared for the hastily arranged address to cheers as she wore white as a respect to the suffragists. Legislators and attendees crowded around her for embraces as she finished to a standing ovation, and several snapped photographs to capture this historic occasion.
Pelosi spoke with President Joe Biden in the morning and was complimented on her historic stint as speaker of the House. Biden had urged Pelosi to continue serving as the Democratic leader.
In a statement, Biden praised her for her ability to bring her caucus together and her “absolute decency,” saying that history would remember her as the most important Speaker of the House of Representatives in our nation’s history.
Scripture teaches us that, for everything, there is a season – and a time for every purpose under heaven.
As Speaker, it has been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people. pic.twitter.com/lCFZc4qNfc
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) November 17, 2022
It’s an unusual decision for a party leader to continue after resigning as the head of the congressional delegation, but it has happened before, and Pelosi has often broken tradition in her quest for power in Washington.
Pelosi stated that she will not support anyone running to succeed her and that she will not serve on any committees as a rank-and-file lawmaker in an interview with reporters following her announcement. The attack on her spouse, she claimed, “made me reconsider staying.”
But in the end, she made the decision to resign following the election.
She said that she had been prepared to depart for some time. “Because I have objectives I want to do. I enjoy singing and dancing. There must be life somewhere, am I right?
Pelosi reviewed her career during her remarks on the House floor, describing how she first visited the Capitol as a young child with her father, a former New Deal congressman and mayor, and how she later served as a speaker alongside four American presidents, noting three of them but omitting Donald Trump.
The glorious miracle that is American democracy, she continued, leaves her speechless every day.
She once said that the fact that Democrats performed better than predicted in the midterm elections—the first national vote held following the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021—was “evidence through the night that our flag was still there,” to the applause of her fellow workers.
Thank you @SpeakerPelosi , a close & reliable friend of Ireland, as you step down as Speaker. You’ve shown remarkable leadership through public service.
You’ll always remain a friend with a special place here in #Ireland. @dfatirl https://t.co/UBlWfkmEoy
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) November 17, 2022
Pelosi received assistance from the American historian Jon Meacham on her speech, but an assistant claimed she added that spontaneous statement herself.
The House quickly filled up with members who had been waiting and speculating about the long-serving leader’s plans, including Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in the Senate. Later, he joined a group of MPs and gave Pelosi an embrace and a cheek kiss.
Staff members and visitors of Pelosi were seated in the Speaker’s Gallery. Although House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is running for speaker of the incoming Congress, did not attend and later told reporters that he was “busy, sadly,” numerous Republicans, including some newly elected members, did.
Pelosi, who won the speakership in two elections, has guided Democrats through important times like the Affordable Care Act’s enactment with President Barack Obama and the impeachments of President Donald Trump.
When Democrats regroup as the minority party for the new Congress, her decision on Thursday opens the door for elections for the House Democratic leadership the following month.
Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland make up Pelosi’s leadership team, which has historically operated as a triumvirate. The three Democratic House leaders, who are all in their 80s, have had to deal with agitated colleagues who want them to move aside and hand the reins to a new generation.
After Pelosi’s remarks, Hoyer declared that “it is the time for a new generation of leaders” and that he would resign from his leadership position while continuing to serve in Congress. The highest-ranking Black American in Congress, Clyburn, has stated he intends to stay in office and aims to continue holding a leadership position.
The three Democratic representatives from California, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Pete Aguilar of New York have all taken similar steps in their quest to become the next generation of leaders.
If Democrats retake power, Jeffries might go down in history as the first Black speaker of the House in the country if he runs for the position.
Pelosi was one of a dozen Democratic women in Congress when she was first elected in 1987. She endured years of Republican derision as a San Francisco liberal while steadily ascending to become a savvy legislator and fundraising force. Her own Democratic team members have occasionally respected but also feared her strong style of leadership.
Democrats swept to power in the 2006 midterm elections as a result of opposition to the policies of then-President George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pelosi first took office as speaker in 2007, declaring that she had broken through the “marble ceiling.”