AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In the final weeks of January, rumors began circulating that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would soon be announcing her plans to retire from Congress. Then, to the surprise of even her own constituents, Pelosi announced late last month that she would indeed be seeking reelection. However, with the prospect of a looming electoral disaster for House Democrats this November (likely the worst at least since Pelosi led the party to a pummeling in the 2010 midterms), it’s not too early to start evaluating what Pelosi’s legacy might be, and how she might be remembered for overseeing the complete radicalization of the Democratic Party during her time as leader.
The 81-year-old Pelosi has spent almost 50 years in public office and is already the oldest person to ever serve as House Speaker. Although she has been the top House Democrat for 20 years, since 2002, Pelosi’s grip over her party has grown increasingly tenuous in recent years, and she barely retained the gavel following the disastrous 2020 House elections that saw Democrats’ majority reduced to a handful of seats.
Pelosi first became Speaker in 2007 following the 2006 midterm elections. That year, the Democratic Party was able to gain thirty seats in the House by riding the wave of public discontent with President George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq War. On January 3rd, she formally defeated Republican John Boehner in a vote in the House, becoming the first woman in history to hold the position of Speaker.
What many consider Pelosi’s crowning victory – although, as history would show, ultimately a pyrrhic one – came in 2010 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. When President Obama proposed the ACA, commonly referred to as Obamacare, Pelosi became the critical driving force in securing the votes for its passage in the House. However, to pass the initiative, she pursued a legislative strategy that many feel has hobbled liberal policy priorities to this day.
Early on in the development of the bill, Obama’s advisors pushed for creating a series of small health care bills that would be transparent to the public. In response, “Pelosi made it clear she would accept nothing short of a big-bang health care push.” She dismissively called the incremental approach to health care reform “kiddie care.” That principle of one massive, vague, and radical bill, often kept secret until the last minute, has at times been successful at getting her far-left priorities passed. Yet it also directly led to Democrats’ famous “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms and eight straight years of GOP control of the House.
But despite this historic defeat, Pelosi appears to have learned nothing from experience. In this Congress, she has pursued the same “one big bill” strategy on the For the People Act, Build Back Better Act, and Democrats’ various attempts at federalizing elections. This time, however, none of those bills passed the Senate – and Democrats are still staring down the barrel of a disastrous midterm election season. This apparently botched handling of Democrats’ domestic agenda has led to even more serious questions about Pelosi’s leadership abilities. And the radicalism of the legislation itself has led to questions about Pelosi’s grasp on the political pulse of the country.
Those questions, however, are nothing new. With Democrats poised to retake the House in 2018, many in the Washington establishment expected Pelosi to step aside or at least outline a succession plan. Much to their surprise, she refused to do either. This decision led to such aggressive opposition within her own party that she promised to resign by 2022 in exchange for being made Speaker in 2018. She stated at the time that “I am comfortable with the proposal, and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not.” Her recent announcement to run for reelection breaks this promise, but thus far, no Democrat has openly challenged her.
The threat from Pelosi’s left also almost certainly contributed to her calculation in pursuing two highly partisan impeachments of President Trump, the second occurring one week before he left office, as well as the overreaches of the current January 6 Committee.
Of all the legislation that has passed Congress under her watch, Pelosi’s most consequential legacy will likely be the ideological revolution that has taken place inside the party under her watch. After two decades of Pelosi’s leadership, the Democratic Party of today bears little resemblance to the party of even 10 years ago—and it is unrecognizable from the party she inherited in 2002, when her Senate counterpart was a Democrat from South Dakota, Tom Daschle. With the ascension of progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the “Squad,” Pelosi has completely embraced a far-left agenda, even as mainstream outlets have declared “Democratic-Socialism” the future of the Democratic Party and the future of America.
Pelosi’s failure to control the radicalism in her party has, to many, created a strange disconnect between the leadership of the party and its extreme rank-and-file members. As Pelosi and President Biden claim that they disagree with progressive policies like Defunding the Police, some of their most visible members continue to demand it, with no pushback from Pelosi. Even on issues like health care, many Democrats are calling for the “replacement or revision” of the already progressive-minded Affordable Care Act to create even more government control of Americans’ medical decisions – hardly a winning strategy with voters.
Many conservatives will undoubtedly celebrate the day Pelosi leaves Congress. But even after Pelosi’s ultimate departure, her legacy of failed policies and radical progressivism will continue, with the next Democrat leader likely to be even more extreme than she is.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.