Speaker of the House Rep. Pelosi, first elected in 1987, is reportedly seeking an 18th(!) term in office this November. For years, politicos on both sides of the aisle have opined on the prospect of Capitol Hill without Pelosi and a Democratic Party without a strong and experienced leader. Pelosi has been a powerful and feared figure in Democratic politics. But lately, there have been signs that suggest that Pelosi is eyeing the exit door. Will Pelosi finally retire? Let’s consider the current state of play.
As we all know, House Democrats today hold a razor-thin majority. In fact, this is the closest the House has been for nearly a century, and it is the first time that Pelosi doesn’t have the leverage, both over her caucus and over her political opponents, that she traditionally wielded. This reality has forced her to govern much differently over the last year and ultimately not get as much done, with President Biden’s Build Back Better plan all but dead in Congress. Accomplishments are few and currently hard to come by for Pelosi.
Another sign that Pelosi might retire is the burden facing every House Democrat this year: prepare to find yourself in the minority next year. No politician, especially Pelosi, enjoys being the minority party out of power, and that now looks all but certain. It is difficult to attract good candidates in competitive races to join a losing party. As of this writing, Republicans lead Democrats on the Generic Congressional Vote according to an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. This is fueled in part by President Joe Biden’s dismal 41.5% approval/53.5% disapproval job performance average rating.
Politically, for Speaker Pelosi to announce her retirement from Congress and to do so at this point – she’d be the 32nd House Democrat not seeking re-election – would be admitting defeat and would give Republicans a mountain of political ammunition that would negatively affect Democratic candidates across the country, especially those in competitive races. Trouble admitting defeat is likely part of the reason why the Speaker hasn’t called it just yet.
Indeed, Pelosi announced her re-election campaign this January, but is there another game she’s really playing? Rumors in the Bay Area have swirled for years that her daughter, Christine Pelosi, is positioning herself to replace her mom in Congress. She would be the frontrunner, clearly. But what if Pelosi’s game is to win re-election, then resign mid-term when she finds herself in the minority? That would set up an open seat and force Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to rush and schedule a special election in the middle of the year, which would greatly lower turnout. For a candidate with the best name recognition money can buy, Christine Pelosi would have a great advantage over the rest of the field, which is expected to draw a dozen or more candidates just as it did in 1987. Are we about to see one Pelosi swapped for another?
There are other signals coming out of the Speaker’s Office that would suggest that Pelosi is on her way out. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi has seen a big exodus from her office the past year as expectations grow that she will leave Congress after this term,” POLITICO Playbook reported early this year. Deputy chief of staff Diane Dewhirst and senior policy advisor Patti Ross departed the Speaker’s office last year, and two months ago, Jorge Aguilar, who ran Pelosi’s campaign arm and has been with her for nearly a decade, also left Pelosi Land. Some media outlets have even reported that Pelosi has become increasingly insular now that her inner circle has shrunk. Those certainly all sound like signs that point towards retirement.
Pelosi said in a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times that she never intended to serve more than ten years in Congress. We know that we can’t take Pelosi at her word, so we will be watching closely how she plays her hand in the months ahead.
Bob Carlstrom is President of AMAC Action