Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democratic caucus for the past decade, will remain in the position for another two-year term.
Ending speculation that she would relinquish power, Pelosi, 72, invoked her status as the first woman Speaker of the House as she announced Wednesday morning that she would stay on. “This picture before you is worth millions of votes,” she said, flanked by a clutch of female colleagues on a stage in the basement of the Capitol. “You are looking into the future, the future of empowerment of women in America.”
Democrats made incremental gains in the lower chamber in last week’s election, but failed to wrest back control of the House. Pelosi pointed to the Democrats’ gain of a handful of seats as a reason for her decision to stay, even though the party’s minority status prevents her from exerting control over the chamber in the fashion she did as speaker. “From the standpoint of the victory we had at the polls, I wouldn’t think of stepping away,” she said.
Her decision is both a boon and a potential burden to Democrats. Pelosi, 72, is a prodigious fundraiser and a skillful tactician with a knack for counting votes and herding querulous members into line. She is also a steely negotiator, as she is the first to remind people. “Anybody who’s ever dealt with me knows not to mess with me,” she told TIME in 2006. She is expected to sail through leadership elections to keep her post, though factions of the party believe that Pelosi’s status as a liberal lightning rod is standing in the way of the party’s transition to a younger, more moderate group of leaders
Pelosi is the House’s leading champion for progressive principles, an attribute her opponents alternately acknowledge and mock. “There is no better person to preside over the most liberal House Democratic Caucus in history than the woman who is solely responsible for relegating it to a prolonged minority status,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said in a statement. “This decision signals that House Democrats have absolutely no interest in regaining the trust and confidence of the American people who took the Speaker’s gavel away from Nancy Pelosi in the first place.” When House Republicans learned Wednesday morning of Pelosi’s decision to run for leadership again, they reportedly broke out in cheers. In congressional races, Republicans regularly invoke her name in an effort to scare off voters from supporting Democratic candidates.
Pelosi, who served as House Speaker from 2007 until the party’s midterm drubbing in 2010, steeped her decision in drama, inviting whispers that she might choose to resign by pushing back leadership elections until after Thanksgiving. She informed her colleagues of the decision in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning, according to a source close to Pelosi. By staying, she blocks the potential ascension of Steny Hoyer, a moderate Maryland representative who has served as Pelosi’s No. 2 and is believed to have his eye on the top job. The decision also ensures that each the four party leaders in the 112th Congress — Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — will all keep their posts despite the abysmal approval ratings the body has earned over the last two years.