House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will remain in charge of the Democratic Caucus for the 113th Congress, the California Democrat announced this morning.
Pelosi revealed her decision before a room full of cheering Democrats, many of whom had privately lobbied her in recent days to stay put.
“The message is clear from the American people,” Pelosi told an excited Democratic Caucus, according to sources in the room. “They want us to work together to get things done. And that’s what these folks are here to do. Just like all of you. We may not have the gavel, but as I can see in this room, we have the unity.”
The decision by the California Democrat to stay on – after a week of growing speculation over her political future – freezes in place the House Democratic leadership for another two years.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) will hold onto their spots as the second and third highest-ranking House Democrats, while Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) will take over as Democratic Caucus chairman. Becerra replaces Rep. John Larson (Conn.), who was term limited out.
Pelosi told Democrats that part of the reason she is staying is to help guide the new Democrats who won election last week – a caucus that for the first time in history has a majority of non-white men. As she made the announcement, she was surrounded by the 40-plus new freshmen Democrats elected to the House last week.
“They say a picture is worth a million words,” Pelosi said. “Well this picture is worth millions of aspirations of the American people. This new class makes our caucus historic. The first time in legislative history that a caucus will be a majority of women and minorities.”
Pelosi’s decision is also a blow to the 73-year-old Hoyer, who Pelosi defeated in a bitter leadership battle in 2001. Since then, Hoyer has been forced to play second fiddle to Pelosi, with the California Democrat calling the shots inside the Democratic Caucus while Hoyer plays the role of loyal lieutenant. The two have formed a good working relationship during their time together both in the majority and minority, but relations between them have never reached the friendship level.
Hoyer was expected to replace Pelosi if she stepped down, a possibility that Republicans – and some Democrats – had privately been hoping would occur.
Now, with Pelosi remaining in her second floor office in the Capitol, Hoyer is not expected to get his shot at the brass ring – becoming Democratic leader – until the 114th Congress.
And Pelosi’s decision will have a cascading effect down the Democratic ladder. Pelosi and Clyburn are 72, with Hoyer a year older. Their domination of Democratic leadership ranks during the last decade has put a lid on the aspirations of younger colleagues. With the triumvirate of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn staying in place, lawmakers like Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have nowhere to go.
Pelosi, even after all these years, may be the most unifying politician in the House. Democrats still love her – and cheered her decision. And Republicans love having her atop Democrat leadership, as she remains a perfect target for conservative interests.
“The mandate of the election was to tax the rich and protect programs like Medicare and Social Security from benefit cuts,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Steny Hoyer would likely not have respected that mandate, but given her track record, we have high hopes for Nancy Pelosi. Today is a good day for progressive power.”
Republicans celebrated too.
“There is no better person to preside over the most liberal House Democratic Caucus in history than the woman who is solely responsible for relegating it to a prolonged minority status,” said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “This decision signals that House Democrats have absolutely no interest in regaining the trust and confidence of the American people who took the speaker’s gavel away from Nancy Pelosi in the first place.”