SSpeaker Nancy Pelosi, who has led House Democrats for two decades, announced Thursday that she will remain in Congress next year but step down from the leadership role.
“No matter what title all of you, my colleagues, have given me, speaker, leader, whip, there is no greater official honor for me than to stand on this floor and speak for the people of San Francisco,” Pelosi said , addressing the House of Commons in a white suit. “I will continue to do that as a member of the House.”
In 2002, Pelosi became the first woman to lead a major party in both chambers, and took over the gavel after the 2006 midterm elections. During her tenure as speaker, she played a key role in passing nearly every major piece of legislation to became law, including the Affordable Care Act, and led two impeachments of President Donald Trump.
“When I think of Nancy Pelosi, I think of dignity,” President Biden said in a statement. “History will mark her as the most consistent Speaker of the House in our history.”
Pelosi’s announcement Thursday, which came a day after Republicans found they had won enough seats to gain control of the chamber in the next Congress, is likely to give a new generation of Democratic leaders, especially a trio of lawmakers already in the leadership of the Chamber.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York is considered the favorite to replace her and would be the first black leader of a major party. Then News reported on Thursday that Pelosi hopes to usher Jeffries into the chairmanship and help with a smooth transition.
Rep. Catherine Clark of Massachusetts, the assistant speaker, and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, are also considered contenders. Jeffries sat between Aguilar and Clark during the announcement. Other members of the leadership sat in the same row: Representatives Jim Clyburn, Sean Patrick Maloney, Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek re-election to lead the Democratic Party in the next Congress,” Pelosi said. “The time has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect. And I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to take on this great responsibility.
Clyburn, the highest-ranking black lawmaker in the House, said in a statement Thursday that he looks forward to Pelosi’s “continued service” and that he will do everything he can “to help our new generation of Democratic leaders, which I hope will be Hakeem Jeffries , Katherine Clark and Pete Aguilar.”
Pelosi is likely to hand the speaker’s gavel to Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who won a closed-door vote in the Republican caucus on Wednesday to be her running mate. Republicans are on track to have a slim majority in the House. This lack of freedom of movement increases the pressure on members of both parties to remain united in the coming year. Pelosi is known as a master at managing her faction and will likely continue to do so informally.
Read more: The tenacity of Nancy Pelosi
Before her statement, the chamber was packed with Democrats and about two dozen Republicans before Pelosi’s statement. Members rose in their seats and shouted and cheered when the House was called to order. As Pelosi used her speech to celebrate the ideals of Congress and the greatness of America, members of both parties cheered. When it came to the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and last week’s election results, they were less united.
“Their voices were raised in defense of freedom, the rule of law and democracy itself,” she said of voters during the midterm elections.
It was one of the few times Democrats stood and cheered while Republicans largely stood still. Republicans also didn’t flinch when Pelosi mentioned by name that she enjoyed working with Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, in particular except for President Trump.
Pelosi’s decision comes less than a month after her husband Paul Pelosi was attacked from an intruder in their San Francisco home who wanted to attack her. She previously said the attack, which left her husband hospitalized and undergoing surgery to repair a fractured skull late last month, would influence her choice.
Her message, however, urged members to remember the high principles they serve.
“It’s the most beautiful building in the world,” she said, “because of what it represents.”
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