In 2018, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi faced a problem: The Democrats had just won back the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010 — but the party now had a significant left-wing contingent, including the so-called “squad,” and they saw Pelosi as too much of a moderate and a relic to take back the speaker’s gavel.
According to The Washington Post, the number of House members in open opposition to Pelosi was enough that she was short of the votes needed to become speaker, throwing the process into chaos. Then-Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, now President Joe Biden’s secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department, contemplated a challenge for the gavel from Pelosi’s left.
Pelosi eventually prevailed, in part because of a pledge: She would serve no more than four years in the role, retiring in 2022.
“Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus,” Pelosi said in a statement, according to the Post.
In December of 2018, then, her retirement wasn’t supposed to be a secret. Why then, in the fall of 2021, is Pelosi being cagey about retirement?
On Sunday, Pelosi appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” — where, at the end of the interview, Jake Tapper asked her “about your own future in Congress. Are you going to run for reelection?”
“Oh, you think I’m going to make an announcement right here and now?” Pelosi responded.
Tapper laughed and said sure — why wouldn’t she?
“I will have to be on many more times than that,” Pelosi said.
“You’re going to run for reelection, though, yes?” Tapper pressed.
Pelosi continued to circle back to the same answer: “Why would I tell you that now?”
After a bit more back-and-forth, however, she said, “Well, probably I would have that conversation with my family first, if you don’t mind.”
In June, Pelosi was similarly vague about her retirement plans in an interview with Forbes.
During the piece, the speaker was playing a word association game with host Mika Brzezinski when the word “retirement” came up. Pelosi responded, “What’s that?”
She went on to say that “people make their own decisions about timing” and “don’t have to comply with somebody else’s view.”
Last November, however, she seemed to acknowledge (albeit vaguely) that this was her last term as speaker.
“I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement,” Pelosi said after being nominated to another term, according to The Hill.
Granted, Pelosi could theoretically stay in Congress, where she’s been since 1987, and relinquish her role as the leader of the House Democrats. However, it’s difficult to picture her being just another liberal representative from California, telling old James Traficant anecdotes for the young’uns in-between votes. If the 81-year-old stays in the House, it’s a reasonable guess that she’s doing it because she wants to remain in leadership.
Of course, that may be difficult to do. Not only does the president’s party usually fare badly in the midterm elections, the Democrats have a slim majority in the lower chamber — 220 Democrats to 212 Republicans at the moment, as per Ballotpedia, with three vacancies.
If Pelosi thinks staying on is going to help the Democrats’ cause, however, she might want to look at her numbers. According to the RealClearPolitics polling average as of Monday, Pelosi held a 36.6 percent favorable rating compared to a 56.6 unfavorable rating — 20 points underwater.
If she were stepping away, a slow transition to her likely successor at the head of the party — Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York — mightn’t be the worst idea at this point, considering he’s a younger, fresher face without the baggage decades of Pelosi-dom carries. The fact she hasn’t — and won’t even confirm she’ll stick to the pledge she made to retain the speakership in 2018 — has to be making some progressive Democrats furious.
Jeffries has refused to comment on the will-she-or-won’t-she Pelosi rumors: “I’ll let the drama, in terms of internal House dynamics, exist over on the Republican side of the aisle,” he said earlier in the year, according to CNN.
One insider CNN talked to for the May article expressed some degree of confidence Pelosi would be stepping away.
“Everyone assumes this is her last term, but no one knows for sure,” said the individual, described as one of Pelosi’s confidantes. “People don’t realize how hard it was to win [the speaker’s race] last time.”
“If she left early, she would be blamed for losing the House,” the source said. “She doesn’t want to look like a loser.”
She’ll be blamed either way, however. The only good thing is that, barring some heaven-sent outbreak of sudden competence in the Biden administration or the Democrat-controlled Congress, history suggests the House is almost certainly the GOP’s — particularly with the razor-thin margin they have.
It inspires a kind of perverse glee in one’s heart to imagine Pelosi winning her San Francisco district — little more than a sinecure for the Democrats — and then having to decide whether to engage in a bloody pit-fight to become the House minority leader or to just give up entirely and concede the decision not to retire was a poor one.
That said, the mere fact Pelosi says she can’t tell Jake Tapper she’s decided on running again when the implication in 2018 was that she was done in 2022 is yet another sign the speaker will go out with another act of subtle duplicity, no matter how the Democrats fare.
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