Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has led Democrats in the House for two decades, announced Thursday that she would remain in Congress next year, but would step down from leadership.
“No matter what title you all, my colleagues, have bestowed on 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 chamber in a white suit. “This I will continue to do as a member of the House.”
Pelosi became the first woman to lead a major party in either chamber in 2002, and took the speaker’s gavel following the 2006 midterm elections. During her tenure as speaker, she played a key role in the passage of virtually every major piece of legislation to become law, including the Affordable Care Act, and oversaw two impeachments of President Donald Trump.
“When I think of Nancy Pelosi, I think of dignity,” President Biden said in a statement. “History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history.”
Pelosi’s announcement on Thursday, which came a day after Republicans found they had clinched enough seats to gain control of the chamber in the next Congress, is likely to empower a new generation of Democratic leaders, particularly a trio of lawmakers already serving in House leadership.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York has widely been seen as the favorite to replace her and would be the first Black leader of a major party. Puck News reported on Thursday that Pelosi hopes to shepherd Jeffries into the speakership and help smooth the transition.
Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the assistant speaker, and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, the vice chair of the Democratic caucus, have also been seen as contenders. Jeffries sat between Aguilar and Clark during the announcement. Other members of leadership sat in the same row: Reps. Jim Clyburn, Sean Patrick Maloney, Steny Hoyer, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi said. “The hour 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 shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
Clyburn, the highest-ranking Black lawmaker in the House, said in a statement on Thursday that he looked forward to Pelosi’s “continued service,” and that he would do whatever he could “to assist our new generation of Democratic Leaders which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar.””
Pelosi is likely to hand over her speaker’s gavel to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who won a vote in a closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus on Wednesday to be its nominee for the job. Republicans are on track to have a narrow majority in the chamber. That lack of wiggle room increases the pressure on members of both parties to remain united come next year. Pelosi has been known as a master of managing her caucus, and will likely continue to do so informally.
Read more: The Persistence of Nancy Pelosi
Ahead of her announcement, the chamber was packed with Democrats and roughly two dozen Republicans ahead of Pelosi’s announcement. Members rose in their seats and whooped and cheered as 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 applauded. When she got to the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the results of last week’s election, they were less united.
“Their voices were raised in defense of liberty, of the rule of law, and of Democracy itself,” she said of voters during the midterm elections.
It was one of a handful of moments when Democrats stood and applauded while Republicans largely remained still. Republicans also didn’t move when Pelosi mentioned by name enjoying working with Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, notably excluding President Trump.
Pelosi’s decision comes less than a month after her husband Paul Pelosi was attacked by an intruder at their San Francisco home who was looking to attack her. She had previously said that the attack, which led to her husband being hospitalized and undergoing surgery to repair a skull fracture late last month, would influence her choice.
Her announcement, however, called on members to recall the high principles they serve.
“This is the most beautiful building in the world,” she said, “because of what it represents.”