Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that she will step away from Democratic leadership next Congress marked a transformational moment on Capitol Hill Thursday, with liberals and even some Republicans offering praise and kudos to the California congresswoman.
In a highly anticipated address from the House floor, Pelosi, who has led the Democratic caucus for 20 years, said she will continue serving her San Francisco district in the lower chamber but will pass the leadership torch to a “new generation” of Democrats, many of whom have been waiting in the wings for a shakeup among the caucus’s top brass.
The House chamber erupted in a standing ovation when Pelosi, dressed in a white suit, wrapped up her speech.
A swarm of Democrats lined up to hug the outgoing Speaker following her remarks. Some even recorded the moment on their cellphones from the floor. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) brought his young daughter to witness the occasion.
“She’s a historical figure. She’ll be one of the top people in American history,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), a close ally of Pelosi. “This is a tough, strong, smart, courageous woman that knows how to listen to everybody, make a decision, [and] implement.”
“She’s just such a venerated leader,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said. “It was so dignified, you know, the way that she carried and carries herself in such a dignified fashion. She went on her own terms, and I think there’s just nothing but respect there for her.”
Few Republicans ventured to the House floor to witness the speech from Pelosi, who has long been villainized in GOP messaging. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) attended — and participated in the standing ovation after her speech.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who this week was nominated by Republicans to replace Pelosi as Speaker next year when the party controls the House, did not attend and said shortly after that he did not watch her speech.
“I had meetings. But normally the others would do it during votes. I wish — she could have done that. I could have been there,” said McCarthy, who once joked that it would be hard to not hit Pelosi with the Speaker’s gavel when he takes it over.
The GOP leader and the Speaker have a hostile relationship, particularly during and since the Trump era. Pelosi called McCarthy a “moron” after he criticized the mask mandate she instituted on the House floor during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They’ve both [had] quite a career of how many decades they’ve been here working through,” McCarthy said of Pelosi and Hoyer on Thursday. “It’s a whole new generation for the Democrats.”
Pelosi’s historic reign in Democratic leadership began in 2002 when she assumed the role of House minority whip. She later served as chair of the House Democratic Caucus and minority leader, but will be most remembered for her ascension to the Speakership in 2007, when she became the first woman to secure the gavel.
Throughout her eight years as Speaker, Pelosi helped usher in a number of massive legislative accomplishments: she oversaw the passage of the Affordable Care Act, helped authorize trillions of dollars of emergency relief during the pandemic and pushed through this year’s multi-billion dollar tax and climate bill.
The California Democrat also twice kicked off impeachment proceedings against former President Trump during his White House tenure.
“I just admire her focus, her workmanship, her dedication and her able to get things done and work with folks,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters. “When I think of the accomplishments that we’ve made under her leadership, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to be here during those times.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a close Pelosi ally who was first to hug the Speaker on the floor, called her California colleague “the most effective Speaker in the history of the United States.”
The Democratic praise for Pelosi was bicameral. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has served as Pelosi’s counterpart in the upper chamber for years, was present on the House floor during her remarks.
“I just left the floor of the House for one of the most emotional moments I’ve had in my career: the valedictory of Nancy Pelosi, one of the greatest legislators — and greatest people — I’ve ever met,” Schumer later said on the Senate floor.
“Few in American history have been as effective, as driven, as successful as Speaker Pelosi. She’s transformed practically every corner of American politics, and unquestionably made America a better, stronger nation,” he added.
But as Pelosi heads to the leadership exits, some Democrats are emphasizing that the California lawmaker will remain a consequential figure in the party — regardless of the title she holds.
“She’s not gonna leave Dem leadership, she’s still gonna be a leader in this caucus, you know, without all the nightmares of us … without the pains in the asses she had to deal with all the time,” Dingell said. “She’s got a great deal of influence, we all know how smart she is, she’s gonna be able to pull people together. She’s going to be a voice people are gonna listen to.”
“I think that her being still involved will be helpful and it’ll help us to get — get further faster,” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said.
Pelosi did get some praise from Republicans.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who said he often speaks to Pelosi on the House floor about her granddaughter and his daughter who share a name, gave her a hug after her speech.
“We don’t agree on a dadgum thing. And I prayed for her husband to get well. But I’m a Christian first, not a Republican,” Burchett said. “We still talk, and I think this country needs a little more than that.”
“We disagreed probably 99 percent of the time. But she’s been a very effective Speaker for her own cause,” said Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) “She had a gracious presentation of well-prepared remarks. I think it was very appropriate.”
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) was also present for Pelosi’s speech and hugged her afterward.
“Part of it was I was first up to present on legislation immediately after. But also, I believe it was a historic moment there, and I usually tend to sit in on those no matter who it is. And thirdly, it’s an Italian thing,” LaMalfa said.
Others, however, did not contain their glee at Pelosi leaving the Speakership.
“I’m thrilled,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). “I think she’s been the most destructive Speaker that we’ve had.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) chimed in with a tweet: “Good riddance!”