Nancy Pelosi rumored to retire if Dems lose midterms

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Nancy Pelosi rumored to retire if Dems lose midterms

With Republicans favored to regain the House in November’s midterm elections, talk on Capitol Hill has turned to the future of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team.

Rumors have swirled for weeks that Pelosi, who turns 82 in March, will leave Congress at the end of this term — especially if Democrats receive the walloping forecast by most polls.

GOP lawmakers and operatives insist that President Biden’s plummeting approval ratings, announcements by at least 24 Democratic lawmakers that they will not seek reelection, and historical precedent that the party controlling the White House often loses congressional seats in midterms augurs that a “red wave” is coming this fall.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has made hay of the whispers, repeatedly referring to Pelosi as a “lame duck Speaker” on social media and during press conferences. 

However, multiple Democratic sources say that a large midterm loss is not inevitable. They note that 11 of the 16 House Democrats who have announced they would rather retire than seek another two-year term are in their 70s and 80s, suggesting they are motivated by other factors than dread of at least two years in the minority. (Four other departing House Democrats are running for the US Senate, while another four are seeking other office.)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been referring to Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the “lame-duck speaker” on social media.
Associated Press

One Democratic source also pointed to grudging praise recently offered by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a indicator that Pelosi’s powers over her caucus have not yet faded.

“She has been amazingly effective for a very long time,” Gingrich told “Fox & Friends” Monday. “She survived losing the Congress [in 2010], came back as the minority leader, got to be Speaker again, and with a tiny majority, she accomplished things I didn’t — as a former Speaker, I didn’t think were possible. So, you at least technically have to have a real respect for her professionalism, her toughness, the degree to which she owns the House Democratic Party. When she leaves, there will be a big vacuum.”

But not every Democrat is so optimistic about the party’s chances.

“I believe if Democrats (miraculously) retain a majority in 2023, she’ll stick around for one more Congress,” one lawmaker told The Post. “If not, I suspect she’ll defer to a new generation of leadership.”

Newt Gingrich
Former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich recently praised Nancy Pelosi saying he had to admire her “professionalism.”
Associated Press

Pelosi — who was first elected to Congress in 1986 and will have served 20 years as the House Democratic leader when votes are cast in November — agreed to a term limit on her leadership tenure as part of a deal struck in 2018 as she sought to ward off a leadership coup and retain her gavel. However, it is unclear whether the agreement would hold if she opts to run again. 

If and when Pelosi does leave the House stage, multiple lawmakers tell The Post they see House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as the frontrunner to take her place, with Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Conn.) another viable contender.

Two sources noted that if Pelosi vacates her position at the end of this Congress, it’s possible she’ll be followed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who turns 83 in June, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), who will turn 82 in July. That, in turn, could give more younger, left-leaning Democrats the opportunity to rise in the party’s House hierarchy.

Hakeem Jeffries
Many see Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as the front runner to succeed Rep. Nancy Pelosi as democratic leader should she retire.
Associated Press

Michael Hardaway, Jeffries’ former head of communications, told The Post that choosing a successor won’t be easy for Democrats, but he feels there is plenty of talent to work with when the time comes. 

“Nancy Pelosi is the most successful Speaker in the history of this nation,” he said. “No one can fill her shoes. Fortunately for Democrats, they have a deep bench of talent that includes David Cicilline [D-RI], Katherine Clark, [House Progressive Caucus Chair] Pramila Jayapal [D-Wash.] and, of course my old boss Hakeem Jeffries, who’s developed into the most talented messenger we have since another guy I worked for named Barack Obama.”

Allies of Jeffries, 51, have touted him as a young, charismatic leader that could help bridge the party’s different factions. 

“I think Hakeem has the temperament, he has the intelligence, I think he has the vision and is the perfect bridge between the older and younger generations,” one member of the Congressional Black Caucus told The Post. “He is a product of not only Brooklyn, but he — like many, many younger members of Congress — is connected to hip-hop. And I think that he understands what it means to be a coalition builder.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer
Some speculate that if Rep. Nancy Pelosi retires she will be joined by other elderly members of leadership like Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, thus clearing space for younger more liberal members.
Associated Press

However, Jayapal has expressed skepticism at the notion that an all-powerful party leader in the mold of Pelosi can still hold total control over the occasionally fractious conference.

“I think there was a ‘holding of power’ model that worked very well for a long time, and I think now it is more about a recognition of different centers of focus within the Democratic caucus that have to be brought in and brought together,” Jayapal told the Washington Post last week. “It takes some acceptance of more-decentralized leadership.”

When asked about the retirement rumors, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill asserted to The Post: “The Speaker is not on a shift, she’s on a mission.” 

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