Fresh off the back of a stronger-than-expected showing in last week’s midterm elections, Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t done with Washington, DC, just yet.
After Republicans took control of the House of Representatives with only a slim majority that shattered conservatives’ hopes of a “red wave,” Pelosi decided on Thursday to step down as leader of House Democrats after more than 19 years in the role.
She will, however, remain in Congress as a representative of California’s 12th District, which encompasses San Francisco.
“For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” Pelosi said in a Thursday address, “and I’m grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
Addressing a packed House and wearing a white pantsuit, which many took as a feminist nod to suffragettes, Pelosi highlighted the legislative achievements she helped guide through Congress, from healthcare, to energy, to infrastructure.
But she also spoke wistfully for the social progress she had seen in her time in politics, especially for women in power. “Never would I have thought that someday I would go from homemaker to House speaker,” Pelosi said.
In a statement, President Joe Biden praised Pelosi, saying the country owed her a debt of gratitude for her service and patriotism. “History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history,” Biden said.
Many pundits had expected the 82-year-old to retire from politics amid the likely Republican takeover, especially in light of the brutal attack on her husband by an intruder at their San Francisco home last month.
There have been calls in both parties for a new generation of leadership. Currently, the three top House Democrats are all over 80. But Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn also announced Thursday that they would not be seeking their roles in the next Congress.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, 52, has been named as a potential favorite to succeed Pelosi as minority leader, but no one had formally come forward to announce their candidacy as they awaited Pelosi’s decision.
Elected to Congress in 1987, Pelosi has been a powerhouse in Democratic politics for decades. In 2007, she became the first woman elected as speaker, a role that she held for four years until Republicans took control of the chamber in the first midterm elections Barack Obama faced as president.
But Pelosi maintained control of her party as minority leader, becoming speaker once again in 2019 in the first midterms after Donald Trump’s election. In that position, she became a prominent Trump foe, memorably ripping up a copy of his State of the Union address in 2020.
Prior to her Thursday address, Pelosi had teased a range of options for her next steps, including full political retirement or remaining in Congress in some form.
“There are all kinds of ways to exert influence,” Pelosi told CNN on Sunday. “Speaker has awesome power, but I will always have influence.”