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.
Minutes later, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, who has been the second-ranking Democrat in the House since Pelosi assumed the top spot in 2003, announced that he too would be departing from leadership.
“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi 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, 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 19 years.
Hoyer will also 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 New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Caucus chairman, for Democratic leader. Jeffries, 52, would represent a new generation taking over leadership.
“For more than three decades, I have had the distinct honor of serving in House Democratic leadership, amplifying the voices of Marylanders at the table where decisions are made,” Hoyer said in a statement. “My priority in Congress has always been representing the interests of and advocating on behalf of Maryland’s Fifth District. I believe that it is time for me, however, to continue my service in a different role. Therefore, I have decided not to seek elected leadership in the 118th Congress.”
‘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 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.”
Changes in Democratic leadership
Pelosi’s resignation from the top Democratic role in the House coincides with a promise she made to her caucus four years ago that this would be her last Congress at the helm.
Hoyer, 83, who had pondered seeking the top Democratic post whenever Pelosi stepped aside, wound up endorsing Jeffries as Democratic leader.
“He is a skilled and capable leader who will help us win back the Majority in 2024 as we strive to continue delivering on our promises to the American people,” Hoyer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter.
“I look forward to serving as a resource to him, to the rest of our Democratic leadership team, and to our entire Caucus in whatever capacity I can best be of assistance as we move forward together to address the nation’s challenges,” Hoyer added.
House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, said in a statement that he looks forward to doing whatever he can “to assist our new generation of Democratic Leaders which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar.” Clark, of Massachusetts, is now the assistant speaker, while Aguilar, of California, is the vice chair of the Democratic caucus.
With Democrats moving from the House majority to the minority, the minority leader and minority whip spots will become the top roles for Democratic leaders, followed by assistant speaker, Democratic Caucus chair and Democratic caucus vice chair.
House Democrats are scheduled to hold their leadership elections on Nov. 30, a few days after members return from the Thanksgiving week break.
Other congressional leaders
Pelosi’s Thursday announcement makes her the only member of congressional leadership, the so-called four corners, who will leave their leadership role next year.
House Republicans voted this week to keep Rep. Kevin McCarthy as their nominee for speaker. He has yet to secure the needed 218 floor votes in January to secure the gavel.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell will remain the Senate minority leader next session after fending off a long-shot bid from Florida’s Rick Scott during a closed-door vote Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, is expected to stay in that role once the conference gathers to officially vote Dec. 8.
Pelosi was first elected to the 100th Congress in 1987 following a special election to fill a vacancy created by the death of Rep. Sala Burton. She often says she was forged in the Appropriations Committee before becoming House Democratic whip in 2001. Her colleagues then voted her in as minority leader in 2003.
Pelosi made history in 2007 as the first female speaker in U.S. history, a role that saw her negotiate and move sweeping packages through narrow majorities, including Obamacare, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in 2021 and Democrats’ climate change and health care package known as the Inflation Reduction Act this summer.
Pelosi has also overseen negotiations on dozens of bipartisan bills throughout her years as speaker and House minority leader.
Pelosi said Thursday that she will continue looking toward the country’s future.
“A new day is dawning on the horizon and I look forward, always forward, to the unfolding story of our nation — a story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one,” she said. “And always an unfinished mission to make the dreams of today, the reality of tomorrow.”
Tributes to Hoyer roll in
Hoyer is another legendary figure who will be assuming a reduced role on Capitol Hill.
He has represented Maryland’s 5th District in Congress since winning a special election in 1981, but his political career dates back to 1966, when he won a seat in the state Senate at the age of 27. Hoyer became state Senate president in 1975, lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1978, and made a political comeback when he was elected to replace Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman (D), who was declared incapable of serving after lapsing into a coma following a debilitating heart attack.
Hoyer was a staffer for U.S. Sen. Daniel Brewster (D-Md.) from 1962 to 1966, and one of his fellow staffers for a time was Pelosi — daughter of the late Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro (D).
Hoyer has been a towering presence in Maryland politics for decades, with an outsized influence on the operations of the Maryland Democratic Party and a lasting legacy in Prince George’s County politics. Just this spring, his decision to endorse Wes Moore in the crowded Democratic primary for governor was considered a crucial moment in Moore’s political rise.
The governor-elect paid tribute to Hoyer in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“For years, we have referred to you as Leader Hoyer,” he said. “Not just because that has been your title, but because that’s who you have been. Our great state of Maryland is indebted to your steadfast leadership, contagious courage, and dedicated statesmanship.”
Moore also expressed gratitude that Hoyer has decided to remain in Congress. He called it “yet another in the long list of proof points that confirm what we all know and feel: you have our backs in Washington.”
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), who was just elected attorney general last week, called Hoyer “a force in American life and politics.”
“Through thick and thin, triumphs and setbacks, Leader Hoyer has stood by my side,” Brown said. “From my earliest days serving in the Maryland state legislature, as Lt. Governor and my unsuccessful run for Governor, to welcoming me to Congress and encouraging my desire to continue serving the people of Maryland.”
The 5th District was anchored almost entirely in Prince George’s County when Hoyer was first elected, but through redistricting after the 1990 Census, it was redrawn to take in the three Southern Maryland counties and a section of Anne Arundel County so the state could create a majority-Black district based in Prince George’s.
Even with the new territory, Hoyer continued to rack up big victories in Democratic primaries and general elections. His toughest race, in fact, came in 1992, when Republican Larry Hogan — son of the district’s former congressman, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. — held him to 55% of the vote. Hogan was elected governor in 2014.
In the House, Hoyer was often a counterpoint to Pelosi’s perceived liberalism — a liaison to more conservative and moderate Democrats. But he was forever loyal to the party’s agenda and retained strong relationships with congressional Democrats across the ideological spectrum.
In his statement Thursday, Hoyer said he was looking forward to returning to the Appropriations Committee and continues to have a long list of priorities that he’ll pursue in the upcoming Congress.
“In the 118th Congress, I look forward to working closely with the Biden-Harris Administration, the Moore-Miller Administration, and my Maryland colleagues to continue the vital work of advocating for Maryland’s Fifth District,” he said. “Together, we will continue working to fund community projects, to expand the network of early-childhood Judy Centers across our state, to bring the new consolidated FBI headquarters to Prince George’s County, and to help invest in safer and stronger communities in our district.”