Pelosi steps down from House leadership, stays in Congress

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she will not seek leadership in the new Congress, ending a historic run as the first woman to hold the gavel and making way for a new generation to lead the party after Democrats lost control of the House to Republicans in the midterm elections.

In a spirited speech on the House floor, Pelosi announced she will step aside after leading Democrats for nearly 20 years and in the wake of the brutal attack on her husband, Paul, last month at their home in San Francisco — and after have done “the people’s work.”

The California Democrat, a central figure in American history and perhaps the most powerful speaker in modern times, said she would remain in Congress as a representative from San Francisco, a post she has held for 35 years, when the new Congress meets in January.

“I will not seek re-election to the Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” she said. “For me, the time has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I respect so deeply.”

Now, she said, “we must move boldly into the future.”

Dressed in white in a nod to the suffragettes, Pelosi was met with cheers when she arrived at the hastily called address. She received a standing ovation as she closed, lawmakers and guests one by one showering her with hugs, many taking selfies of a moment in history.

President Joe Biden, who had urged Pelosi to stay on as Democratic leader, spoke with Pelosi in the morning and congratulated her on her historic tenure as Speaker of the House.

“History will note that she is the most consistent Speaker of the House in our history,” Biden said in a statement, noting her ability to win unity from her caucus and her “absolute dignity.”

It’s an unusual choice for a party leader to stay on after stepping down from congressional leadership, but not without precedent, and Pelosi has long defied convention in pursuing power in Washington.

In an interview with reporters after her announcement, Pelosi said she will not endorse anyone in the race to succeed her, and she will not serve on any committees as a regular lawmaker. She said the attack on her husband “made me think again about staying.”

But ultimately, after the election, she decided to step down.

“I’ve honestly been personally ready to go for a while,” she said. “Because there are things I want to do. I like to dance, I like to sing. There’s a life out there, right?”

During her remarks in the House of Representatives, Pelosi described her career, from seeing the Capitol for the first time as a young girl with her father – a former New Deal congressman and mayor – to serving as speaker with US presidents, noting three of the four , but without mentioning Donald Trump.

“Every day I am in awe of the majestic miracle that is American democracy,” she said.

At one point, she compared the better-than-expected showing for Democrats in the midterms, the first national election since the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, as “proof overnight that our flag was still there,” drawing cheers from colleagues.

American historian Jon Meacham helped Pelosi with her speech, but an aide said she added the improvised line herself.

On short notice, lawmakers who have been waiting and wondering about the longtime leader’s plans filled the House, at least on the Democratic side, and were joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He later joined a crowd of lawmakers and hugged and kissed Pelosi on the cheek.

The Speaker’s Gallery was packed with Pelosi’s staff and guests. Some Republicans, including some newly elected members, also attended, although House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is seeking the speakership of the new Congress, did not, telling reporters afterward that he was “busy, unfortunately.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement late Thursday: “The Speaker and I have disagreed often and forcefully over the years, but I have seen firsthand the depth and intensity of her commitment to public service. There is no question, that the impact of Speaker Pelosi’s consequential and groundbreaking career will be long lasting.”

Pelosi was twice elected to the speakership and has led Democrats through subsequent moments, including passage of the Affordable Care Act with President Barack Obama and the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Her decision Thursday paves the way for elections for Democrats in the House Democratic leadership next month, when Democrats reorganize as the minority party for the new Congress.

Pelosi’s leadership team, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, has long moved as a triumvirate. All now in their 80s, the three Democratic leaders in the House have faced restless colleagues eager for them to step aside and let a new generation take charge.

Hoyer said after Pelosi’s remarks that “it’s time for a new generation of leaders” and that he too will step down from the leadership but remain in Congress. Clyburn, the highest-ranking black American in Congress, has said he expects to stay in Congress next year and hopes to stay at the leadership table.

Democratic representatives 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 in the future if Democrats regain control and he enters the race to become the nation’s first black speaker of the House.

Pelosi was first elected in 1987 and was among a dozen Democratic women in Congress. She was long derided by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal while steadily rising as a skilled legislator and fundraising powerhouse. Her own Democratic colleagues have at times appreciated, but also feared, her powerful leadership.

Pelosi first became speaker in 2007, saying she had broken the “marble ceiling” after Democrats swept to power in the 2006 midterm elections as a backlash against then-President George W. Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As she prepared to return as speaker in 2018, in the Trump era, she promised “to show the power of the hammer.”

Pelosi has repeatedly resisted leadership challenges over the years and had suggested in 2018 that she would serve four more years as leader. But she hadn’t discussed those plans recently.

Typically unsentimental, Pelosi showed a rare moment of emotion on the eve of the midterm elections as she held back tears and discussed the serious assault on her husband of nearly 60 years.

Paul Pelosi suffered a fractured skull after an intruder broke into their home in the middle of the night looking for the Democratic leader. The Intruder’s Question – “Where’s Nancy?” — echoed the chants of the pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol as they chased Pelosi and tried to prevent 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 said was a political attack.

Historians have noted that other political figures later had careers as rank-and-file members of Congress, including John Quincy Adams, the former president, who went on to serve nearly 18 years in Congress.

——— Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Farnoush Amiri and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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