Nancy Pelosi Won't Seek New Term as House Democratic Leader, Stepping Aside After 2 Decades

Nancy Pelosi
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made history as the first woman to serve in the role.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made history as the first woman to serve in the role, will not seek another term as Democratic leader, she said Thursday, bringing an end to two decades as head of the Democratic caucus as the party prepares to relinquish its majority.

Pelosi will remain in the House after winning a 19th term last week, assuming a lower-profile role when the next Congress convenes in January. 

"Now we must move boldly into the future, grounded by the principles that have propelled us this far and open to fresh possibility for the future," Pelosi said, adding, "with great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress."

Pelosi began her remarks recalling seeing the U.S. Capitol for the first time as a 6-year-old, calling it a "temple of our democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals," and paying homage to the great Americans who served in the Congress before her.

"American democracy is majestic, but it is fragile," she said. "Democracy must be forever defended from forces that wishes it harm."

The decision by Pelosi to clear the way for a new generation of lawmakers to run the caucus puts an end to months of speculation about her political future. It also follows the violent attack on her husband Paul Pelosi, of which Pelosi herself was the target, at their San Francisco home last month, which the speaker told CNN would influence whether she would step aside.

The California Democrat, wearing a white suit, the color often worn by suffragists, was greeted with applause when she entered the House chamber at noon to open the session. Dozens of Pelosi's Democratic colleagues gathered in the House chamber for her remarks, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. One Republican, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, offered a nod to Pelosi as he concluded brief comments on the House floor before her speech, saying, "Godspeed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi."

It was unclear heading into Thursday what decision Pelosi had made, and she took two versions of her speech home with her Wednesday night, a source familiar with the matter said. The speaker declined to answer questions about her plans when arriving at the Capitol Thursday morning.

Since her election to Congress in 1987, Pelosi has risen through the ranks of House Democratic leadership, serving as minority whip — her election to that position made Pelosi the highest-ranking woman in congressional history — and then House Democratic leader, a role she has held since 2003.

In 2007, she made history as the first woman to be elected speaker of the House when Democrats took the majority. She has served four nonconsecutive terms as speaker since, uniting an often fractious Democratic caucus to pass some of the most consequential legislation in recent history under the Obama and Biden administrations.

For Republicans, her unabashed pursuit of liberal priorities made her a convenient foil on the campaign trail, and GOP candidates have targeted her in attack ads for years. She was also a staunch opponent of former President Donald Trump, overseeing both House impeachment proceedings against him. Their fractured relationship was memorably on display after Trump's State of the Union address in 2020, after which Pelosi tore up a copy of his remarks.

Her fractured relationship with Trump was on display during her speech, as she highlighted the legislative achievements of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, with no mention of the 45th president.

Pelosi reflected on the changing demographics of the House membership over her more than three decades in Congress, highlighting the rise in women serving but noting, "we want more."

"I have seen this body grow more reflective of our great nation, our beautiful nation," she said. 

While Pelosi said in 2018 that she would limit her term as Democratic leader to four years, a pledge that appeased enough members of her party to secure the speaker's gavel once more, she has been pushed to reconsider after the "red wave" expected for Republicans did not happen.

The speaker told CNN on Sunday that her Democratic colleagues had asked her to "consider" running in the caucus' leadership elections, set to begin at the end of the month, but she said any decision on whether to do so will be "rooted in the wishes of my family and the wishes of my caucus."

Biden also asked Pelosi to stay in office, telling the California Democrat after she won her own reelection bid that "I hope you stick," according to Politico.

This story was originally published by CBS News on Nov. 17, 2022 at 12:35 p.m. ET.