‘She showed leadership’: Democrats reflect on Pelosi’s legacy as they look to party’s future

Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., hugs Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., after she spoke on the House floor at the Capitol in Washington Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Carolyn Kaster/AP

‘She showed leadership’: Democrats reflect on Pelosi’s legacy as they look to party’s future

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received an outpouring of respect from House Democrats after she announced she would be stepping down from her leadership position, with lawmakers praising the California Democrat for her work over the last 20 years.

The 82-year-old made the highly anticipated announcement on Thursday, confirming she would step down from her role despite calls from some in her party to remain in a leadership position. However, Pelosi also faced calls from Democrats to retire and clear the way for the next generation of leadership.

PELOSI’S TOP DEPUTIES TO MAKE WAY FOR NEXT GENERATION OF DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP

Pelosi announced her plans to step down in a floor speech, receiving applause and several standing ovations from lawmakers during her remarks. The applause was followed by kind words as reporters caught up with lawmakers at the Capitol.

“She called me and told me all this, and all that I said [was], ‘Please change your mind. We need you here,’” said Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who attended the speech. “We’re only as good as the team in our unit. One of her famous expressions, which I have tried to carry out in the Senate and learned from her, [is] ‘In unity, there is strength.’”

Other Democrats echoed those sentiments, noting they held mixed feelings about Pelosi’s decision.

“I’ve got to be honest for you, there’s a part of me that understands the decision, but there’s another part of me that is kind of sad, because I think she’s such an extraordinary leader,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). “But we will elect new leaders.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) also praised Pelosi for her work in Congress, pointing to her leadership over the course of four presidents. 

“She kept a diverse caucus united, and served as a fearless check-and-balance during the four years of the Trump presidency,” Durbin said in a statement. “She was instrumental in pushing the Affordable Care Act over the finish line in 2010 — which has expanded health coverage to 30 million Americans and saved thousands of lives — as well as guided Congress through the unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic and helped rescue the nation from the depths of the 2008 financial crisis.”

A slew of Democrats also reflected on their personal interactions with the House speaker, painting her as a dedicated public servant with a lasting legacy. 

“Inspiring a nation of women as leaders — I think that will be her legacy,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). “I have this playful thing [where] I playfully refer to her as gangsta because she is in the most hip-hop way.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) pointed to a trip he took with Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this year when the House speaker led a delegation to focus on strengthening economic and security partnerships overseas. 

”She showed leadership. That was remarkable. Look at the people in Taiwan who said, ‘Welcome, Nancy Pelosi,’” Meeks said. “I thought it was just fantastic and historic. There’s a whole lot of other things [that’s] she’s done to hold this caucus together.”

Some lawmakers lauded Pelosi’s decision to make way for a new generation of leaders, praising the House speaker as opening the door to a new chapter for the party.

”I thought it was one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve heard on the floor. I think that it was such a gracious and generous speech,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). “We watched history in the making, and now, we’re gonna see a new generational change in the leadership of the party, and I can’t wait to be a part of what’s next.”

Pelosi’s decision on whether she’ll launch another leadership bid or even retire from politics altogether has been widely anticipated for months. Pelosi won her first election to Congress in 1987 and has served as the party’s House leader since 2002, quickly becoming the lower chamber’s most prolific fundraiser and a well-recognized face throughout the nation.

“Serving with and learning from Speaker Pelosi has been the greatest professional experience of my life,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, who has worked closely with the speaker to elect Democrats to the House. “We are all blessed to be citizens of a country made better by her service. Her contributions to our democracy rank among the greatest of our republic.”

Replacing her will be no easy task, and Democrats have been quietly discussing for months who would be the best successor — with many pointing to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who has emerged as a fan favorite among the party.

Just minutes after Pelosi announced her plans to step down, her two top deputies also signaled they would make way for the next generation of Democratic leadership. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced he would step down from the No. 2 post after the current session of Congress expires, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) said he would remain in leadership but as assistant Democratic leader.

The moves make way for Jeffries, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-CA) to rise to the top three spots.

Jeffries also responded to the news of Pelosi’s departure on Thursday, praising the speaker for her legacy as the “first woman Speaker of the House” but stopped short of announcing any plans to replace her.

“The Speaker often reminds us that our diversity is our strength,” Jeffries said in a statement. “I know that we will draw on that wisdom often as we come together as a Caucus to begin a new chapter, reflecting the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the people we represent.”

Aguilar also declined to comment on his future plans.

“We’re all just trying to process what we heard and honor the legacy of Speaker Pelosi. … Those are the things I’m reflecting on right now,” Aguilar said. “We will communicate to our colleagues when it’s right.”

A handful of Republicans attended Pelosi’s speech on Thursday, although nearly all senior GOP leaders were not in attendance, with the exception of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).

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“That was disappointing, but I was actually focusing on the Republicans who were there. There were many Republicans who were there who recognized the power of this moment,” Bowman said. “It was disappointing to not see more of the Republicans. The ones I saw there, I was happy to see them there.”

Notably, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was not in attendance, later noting he was “in meetings” at the time of her speech. 

“Normally, the others would do it during votes,” McCarthy said. “I wish she could’ve done that, I could’ve been there.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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