In January 2003, when Nancy Pelosi first became the leader of the House Democratic caucus, George W. Bush was president, the Iraq War hadn’t yet started, Michael Jordan was playing for the Washington Wizards and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was topping the charts. On Thursday, after nearly 20 years as leader of the House Democrats and two stints as one of the most powerful and successful House speakers in U.S. history, Pelosi, 82, said she would step aside from her party leadership role, though she will stay in Congress.
“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect.”
Republicans officially win a House majority: Pelosi’s announcement comes after Republicans on Wednesday night officially won a majority of House seats for the 118th Congress. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), reelected as leader of the GOP caucus and hoping to be voted speaker in January, celebrated the win in an appearance on Fox News Wednesday night. “It is official,” he told host Sean Hannity. “One party Democrat rule in Washington is finished. We have fired Nancy Pelosi.”
McCarthy reiterated an earlier pledge to try to roll back the $80 billion in extra funding for the Internal Revenue Service that Democrats enacted as part of the Inflation Reduction Act this year. Republicans have misleadingly claimed that money will be used to fund an army of 87,000 auditors who will target middle-class taxpayers. “On day one in the House, we will repeal 87,000 new IRS agents,” McCarthy said, adding, “We will use the power of the purse. The size of our [national] debt has got to stop. … We’ve got to cut back on this wasteful Washington spending.”
House Republicans have also begun laying out a series of investigations and oversight hearings they want to pursue, including plans to hunt for links between President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.
McCarthy was notably absent from the House floor during Pelosi’s announcement. If elected speaker, he will be leading a very slim majority in the House, meaning that a small group of his members would have the votes to potentially derail leadership plans or exert some leverage in pursuit of concessions. “We have to work as a team or we’ll lose as individuals,” McCarthy told Hannity. “And I believe this conference will rally together.”
Pelosi is quite familiar with such headaches. She won plaudits for navigating such predicaments over the years and holding her members together to deliver historic results. “It’s been my privilege to play a part in forging extraordinary progress for the American people,” she said in her speech Thursday. “I have enjoyed working with three presidents, achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush, transformative health care reform with President Barack Obama and forging the future from infrastructure to health care to climate action with President Joe Biden.”
Pelosi pointedly left out the fourth president she overlapped with, Donald Trump, whom the House impeached twice under her leadership.
The legacy she leaves: Pelosi will go down in history as the first woman to lead a major party in Congress and the first to be speaker of the House. Through her 12 years as minority leader and eight years a speaker, Pelosi has been a huge fundraising force for Democrats and built a tremendous political and legislative legacy. “History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Because of Nancy Pelosi, the lives of millions and millions of Americans are better, even in districts represented by Republicans who voted against her bills and too often vilify her.”
That means she won’t be easy to replace.
Who’s next: Pelosi’s announcement was followed by one from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who also said he will be staying in Congress but will not seek a leadership position. Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), 52, is widely expected to succeed Pelosi as leader of the House Democrats. He would be the first Black politician to lead a congressional caucus for either party. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA), 59, and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), 43, also expected to seek top leadership jobs. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), currently the majority whip, said he will look to continue in leadership as assistant to the minority leader.