- Sam Cabral
- BBC – Washington
Nancy Pelosi has announced she is stepping down from the House Democratic leadership, a position she held for nearly two decades.
The 82-year-old woman is the most powerful Democratic member of Congress, and is the first woman to hold the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Pelosi will continue to represent her California district in the House of Representatives.
The move comes at a time when the Republicans are back in control of the House, in the wake of the midterm elections.
Republican Kevin McCarthy won his party’s nomination for Speaker of the House in the new Congress, and is likely to succeed Pelosi.
Pelosi said in a statement: “I never imagined that I would go from being a housewife to being Speaker of the House. I will not seek re-election as the Democratic leadership in the next Congress. It is time for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus.”
Pelosi will continue to preside over the House of Representatives until next January when the new Congress convenes, and she will remain in her seat, which she won since 1987, until January 2025.
New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is widely expected to take over the top Democratic leadership position in the House of Representatives, making him the first black leader in Congress in US history.
The speaker of the House of Representatives is the only congressional position detailed in the United States Constitution. After the vice president, this position comes in the order of the presidency, in emergencies.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, their deputies, and chairmen of committees determine the bills that are considered and voted upon. They set the agenda and decide the rules governing the discussion.
Pelosi became minority leader – the title held by the person who leads the opposition in the House of Representatives – in 2003. Then Democrats took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in more than a decade in 2006, and she became the first woman to lead a major party in either chamber of Congress.
Pelosi became minority leader again four years later but returned to the speaker’s seat in 2018.
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher – BBC North America correspondent
Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to lead a major party in either house of the US Congress, will go down in history as one of its most effective figures, an invaluable asset to Democrats and a formidable opponent to Republicans.
Her legislative acumen, her ability to keep a fractious party together when it matters, and her instinct on the political stage have made her a force on Capitol Hill as well as a lightning rod against her critics.
She hasn’t been the most flamboyant Democratic leader on television, her speeches and press conferences hardly inspiring, but her ability to hold her tiny and divided majority in the room together has won her some rivals.
Her political instincts have always been sound, and her sense of legislative timing — when to pay, when to wait and what it takes to win a vote — impeccable. And it did so in an era when House leadership had incentives, such as earmarked spending authorizations, to keep recalcitrant backbenchers in line.
During the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol looking for the Speaker and were filmed destroying her office and setting foot on it.
The duration and depth of its grip on House Democrats, stretching back more than two decades, has stunted the growth of young leaders within the chamber, who have waited years for their chance to rise up the party leadership structure. Now, finally, they might get their chance. But they will have a huge void to fill.
As Speaker of the House, Pelosi has played a critical role in advancing – or thwarting – the agendas of many presidents.
She is widely credited with orchestrating passage of former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation, as well as bills to address infrastructure and climate change under current President Joe Biden.
Pelosi has also directly challenged Donald Trump throughout his presidency, famously tearing up a copy of his State of the Union address while standing before her in Congress.
John Lawrence, Pelosi’s chief of staff, told the BBC he expected her to play an important role in advising new members of Congress and working with the White House now that the Democrats are in the minority again.
He added, “There is never a good time to leave. When you’re on the rise, you want to achieve a lot, and when things are going against you, you want to fight back.”
In a statement on Thursday, President Biden called Pelosi “the most important Speaker of the House in our history.”
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