WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who became the first woman in history to hold the gavel, shepherding landmark bills across four presidencies, announced Thursday she’ll step aside from leadership though she’ll remain in Congress.
“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” she said in remarks on the floor of the House. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect, and I’m grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
Pelosi, D-Calif., who wore a winter-white pantsuit in a nod to suffragettes and other key moments throughout her own political career, announced her retirement from leadership during a 15-minute speech just after the House met at noon with the chamber full of Democratic members and several Republicans. She has served as Democrats’ leader while they were in both the minority and majority for 15 years.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who has served for years alongside Pelosi, also announced he’d leave leadership but remain in Congress, heading back to the Appropriations Committee, which controls discretionary government spending to the tune of about $1.5 trillion a year.
Hoyer said he would back U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, now the Democratic Caucus chairman, for Democratic leader. Jeffries, 52, would represent a new generation taking over leadership.
‘No greater honor’
Pelosi in her speech said that no matter how many titles she’s received over the years — speaker, leader, whip — “there is no greater official honor for me than to stand on this floor and to speak for the people of San Francisco.”
“This I will continue to do as a member of the House, speaking for the people of San Francisco, serving the great state of California and defending our Constitution,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi’s announcement came just weeks after a man broke into the San Francisco home she shares with her husband and attacked him with a hammer while she was in Washington, D.C. The suspect, who faces state and federal criminal charges, said during the incident he was searching for Pelosi, similar to insurrectionists in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol who went looking for her.
Pelosi said Thursday that she was grateful for the outpouring of support following the attack on her husband, saying he “has been my beloved partner in life and my pillar of support.”
“We’re all grateful for all the prayers and well wishes as he continues his recovery. Thank you so much,” she said, before getting a round of applause.
Pelosi’s decision to step aside from leadership follows a Democratic performance that turned out much better during the midterm elections than expected. And while the party did lose control of the House, Republicans so far have secured just the minimum 218 seats needed to hold the majority with 211 for Democrats and the remaining six races not yet called by The Associated Press.
Pelosi said the election shows Americans have rejected calls to violence and threats to the country’s democracy.
“Last week the American people spoke, and their voices were raised in defense of liberty, of the rule of law and democracy itself,” she said. “With these elections, the people stood in the breach and repelled the assault on democracy. They resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection.”
President Joe Biden released a statement saying Pelosi “is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history.”
“In the first two years of my presidency, she is a singular force securing once-in-a-generation bills that will define our nation for decades to come,” Biden wrote. “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.”
The Democratic members of Pennsylvania’s U.S. House delegation heaped praise on Pelosi for her service.
“It has been a true privilege to serve with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. From the first day that I stepped foot on Capitol Hill in 2014, I have witnessed first-hand her legislative expertise in carrying out the responsibilities and demands bestowed upon those that hold the Speaker’s gavel,” U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, said in a statement.
“Her work ethic in support of her caucus was second to none and her leadership abilities were unmatched for the times. She ensured that we were proud in times of success, unified in times of division, and resolute in times of crisis. Speaker Pelosi leaves behind a leadership standard for our caucus to follow for years to come,” Boyle said.
On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, also said he’d been honored to serve alongside Pelosi.
1/ Thank you @SpeakerPelosi Nancy Pelosi for all that you have done! You have led on so many accomplishments #ForThePeople such as the Affordable Care Act & the landmark Inflation Reduction Act that makes our largest investment ever in fighting climate change. pic.twitter.com/3471mEA5o4
— Congressman Dwight Evans (@RepDwightEvans) November 17, 2022
Some, such as U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, were visibly moved by Pelosi’s speech. Television footage showed Dean, of Montgomery County, wiping away tears as she walked away from Pelosi on the House floor on Thursday.
“As the first woman to be Speaker of the House, she has been a mentor to me and has guided our Caucus with an unwavering commitment to the American people — to our children,” Dean posted to Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, who posted a photo of the House chamber during Pelosi’s speech, offered “Thank you, Speaker Pelosi.”
— Chrissy Houlahan (@RepHoulahan) November 17, 2022