Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRep. Perlmutter says he won’t seek reelection in November New York man charged with threatening to kill Trump Congressional action shows OSHA vaccine mandate is a bald-faced power grab MORE (D-Calif.) isn’t showing her cards, but the longtime Democratic leader has vowed that this year will be her last at the top of the party, auguring a fast-approaching power vacuum that younger lawmakers have been salivating to fill for more than a decade.
A new generation of ambitious Democrats is looking to push aside the old guard of octogenarians — Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBoebert, Clyde fined for defying House floor mask mandate Ex-McCarthy staffer: GOP leader’s strategy dictated by ‘most extreme’ wings of party Pelosi: It was ‘inexplicable’ why it took so long for National Guard to be activated on Jan. 6 MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — but the veteran No. 2 and No. 3 leaders have been forecasting a different scenario, reaching out to their colleagues to gauge support about staying on, even if Pelosi calls it quits.
How those leadership battles play out remains to be seen. But with Pelosi having led the party for the last 19 years — and with Democrats facing long odds of keeping control of the House after the coming midterm elections — the emerging internal consensus has it that this year will be her swan song on Capitol Hill.
“My gut would tell me that this would be her last term,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – Senate gets busy, except for Build Back Better MORE (D-Ky.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team who already sees evidence of the scramble to replace her.
“I see a lot of people who would be the presumed successors donating a lot of money to their colleagues.”
“If we’re in the minority,” added another lawmaker, “I can’t imagine her wanting to do it.”
Ready to seize the opportunity to rise in the ranks are the three leaders seated just below Clyburn: Assistant Speaker Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkTop House Democrat urges Senate to abolish filibuster to pass voting rights on Jan. 6 anniversary Photos of the Year Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions MORE (D-Mass.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesFeehery: What House Republicans should promise when they take over House clears bill to raise debt limit House votes to hold defiant Meadows in criminal contempt MORE (N.Y.) and Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarHouse votes to hold defiant Meadows in criminal contempt Trump allies leaning on his executive privilege claims All eyes on Garland after Bannon contempt vote MORE (D-Calif.), the caucus vice chairman.
While there are sure to be others in the mix vying for leadership spots — some early speculation surrounds Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineIn their own words: Lawmakers, staffers remember Jan. 6 insurrection Lawmakers call for investigation into proposed AT&T WarnerMedia, Discovery merger Democratic caucus chairs call for Boebert committee assignment removal MORE (D-R.I.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalHillicon Valley — Progressives put pressure on Google Congressional Progressive Caucus backs measure to expand Supreme Court Warren, Jayapal urge Google to drop efforts to ‘bully’ DOJ antitrust chief into recusal MORE (D-Wash.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests McCarthy says he’ll strip Dems of committee slots if GOP wins House Congressional Democrats press Biden to expand rapid COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Calif.) — some lawmakers are predicting “no wild cards” in the highest ranks next year.
And Jeffries, who would be the first Black Speaker in the nation’s history, appears to be the early favorite for the top spot.
“I think it’s pretty clear that our next tier of leadership is going to be Hakeem, Katherine and Pete,” said one moderate Democratic lawmaker, who like many sources spoke only anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic. “I think probably 80 percent of people here believe that.”
Some of Pelosi’s top allies are urging her to stay on, saying they don’t see anyone who could fill her shoes. Even at 81, Pelosi is a ball of energy who is in constant motion on Capitol Hill and holds the undisputed title as Democrats’ most successful fundraiser in Congress. She’s raked in more than $1 billion for her party since she joined the leadership ranks in 2002, a spokesman said, dwarfing amounts raised by others like Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerClyburn on updating election law: ‘What is true today was not true then’ Biden eulogizes Reid as a fighter ‘for the America we all love’ Like it or not, all roads forward for Democrats go through Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.Y.).
“I support the Speaker; I think she’s done a really good job. She has been on point and she’s delivered on all the caucus priorities, so I just don’t see who would replace her at this point. I can’t envision anyone right now,” Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresHouse passes giant social policy and climate measure State Democrat group teams up with federal lawmakers to elect down-ballot candidates Pelosi vows to bring infrastructure to vote on Thursday MORE, a Pelosi ally and fellow California Democrat, told The Hill.
“I don’t see how she has not met the demands of this younger generation, so I don’t see any of them as ready to step up and lead an entire caucus, a very diverse caucus.”
In typical fashion, Pelosi has not announced her post-election plans, not least because she wouldn’t want to highlight a lame-duck status that could hinder her fundraising prowess just as Democrats are scrambling to protect dozens of vulnerable incumbents from what could be a GOP wave this fall.
But despite some early speculation that Pelosi might resign ahead of the elections — a step taken by then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerStopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid Lobbying world MORE (R-Ohio) in 2015 amid pressure from the right — there’s no sign that she’s even considering it.
“Given her legacy, [she] probably doesn’t want to create the chaos that a leadership battle would create if she did leave early,” said the moderate lawmaker. “The headline would be ‘the Democrats’ leadership battle’ for the next four months.”
When asked if Pelosi plans to step down after the November election, Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s chief spokesman and trusted confidant, replied: “The Speaker is not on a shift, she’s on a mission.”
Still, there are other signs that senior Democrats are preparing to hand over the reins to a younger generation. At least 26 Democrats will not seek reelection in the House this November. Among them are a core group of longtime Pelosi loyalists that includes Yarmuth and Reps. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceClay Aiken launches second bid for Congress Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (N.C.), G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 North Carolina Democrat Jeff Jackson drops out of Senate race MORE (N.C.), Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardCalifornia Assemblywoman launches congressional run, setting up contested primary Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Biden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections MORE (Calif.) and Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Speier endorses California Democrat in race to replace her War of words escalates in House MORE (Calif.), who represents an area just south of Pelosi’s San Francisco district.
Pelosi’s promise to step out of leadership after the current cycle came in 2018, after Democrats had won control of the House and Pelosi — the first female Speaker in the nation’s history when she held the gavel from 2007 to 2011 — faced an internal revolt from roughly two dozen Democrats eager for new leadership. To win the Speakership for the second time, she committed to limiting herself to two terms with the gavel — a vow she reaffirmed in 2020.
Yet Hoyer and Clyburn, who have been her top lieutenants since 2003 and 2006, respectively, made no similar promise. And both are said to be reaching out to colleagues in an effort to remain in leadership spots.
“Clyburn is acting like he’s going to stay. I’m hearing he’s going to stay,” Yarmuth said.
Hoyer, too, likely would fight to stick around, Yarmuth predicted.
“It’s a question of whether he has support or not. He’s made a lot of friends over the years,” he said. “He’d probably be hard to dislodge.”
There’s a long and growing restlessness, however, among the newer members of the caucus who think it’s well past time to place some fresh faces atop the party. The 16-year reign of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn has created a bottleneck in the upper ranks, and a long list of prominent would-be leaders with nowhere else to climb — such as former Reps. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests CDC leader faces precarious political moment Biden officials require insurers to cover eight at-home tests per month MORE (Calif.), Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado trucker’s case provides pathways to revive pardon power Biden addresses Coloradans after wildfires: ‘Incredible courage and resolve’ Overnight Energy & Environment — Virginia gears up for fight on Trump-era official MORE (Colo.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats face moment of truth in filibuster fight Real relief from high gas prices Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women’s museums to be built on National Mall MORE (Md.) and Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamWhite House asks governors to name infrastructure coordinators Seven most vulnerable governors facing reelection in 2022 Democrats decry gerrymandering — unless they control the maps MORE (N.M.) — have left the House in recent years to pursue higher office elsewhere.
That’s led to plenty of internal grumbling about wasted talent and missed opportunities, while adding to the sense that Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn will all be replaced in the next Congress — particularly if Democrats fare poorly in the midterms.
“If we go through a bloodbath,” said the moderate Democrat, “I think people are going to be prepared for new leadership.”