U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepping down from House Democrat leadership role

Nancy Pelosi, the first and only woman to serve as U.S. House Speaker, announced Thursday that she will step down from an active leadership role in her party.

Pelosi, the only woman ever to serve as Speaker, is in the final weeks of her current term

U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks from the House on Thursday in Washington, D.C. Pelosi is stepping back from leading the Democrats in the chamber after 20 years wielding power. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Nancy Pelosi, the first and only woman to serve as U.S. House Speaker, announced Thursday that she will step down from an active leadership role in her party.

Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in Congress for the past generation, is in the final weeks of her most recent stint as Speaker after it was confirmed on Wednesday that the Republicans will regain leadership in the House.

She entered the chamber Thursday to a standing ovation before announcing her intention to not seek re-election for a leadership role in the next Democratic caucus.

"Now we must move boldly into the future," Pelosi said. "The hour has come for a new generation."

Pelosi retained her own 11th District seat in San Francisco in last week's midterms with 84 per cent of the vote at last count. In addition to fundraising for midterm candidates, Pelosi the past year has travelled to Kyiv and elsewhere in Europe for summits related to the Ukraine war, to several Asian countries and to the ongoing COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

An unexpected new factor in Pelosi's decision came on Oct. 28, when her husband, Paul, was attacked at their San Francisco residence while she was in Washington, D.C., allegedly by a Canadian who had long overstayed his U.S. visa.

Pelosi, in her first interview after the attack, admitted to CNN that "my decision will be affected [by] what happened the last week or two." Paul Pelosi, who she described as her "pillar of support," is out of hospital but faces a difficult recovery.

WATCH | Pelosi was thorn in the side of Trump:

Nancy Pelosi steps aside as GOP takes U.S. House of Representatives

6 months ago
Duration 1:58
Change is coming to the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans now have a slim majority, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will step aside as the top Democrat. Pelosi, the first woman to hold the post, says she's making way for a new generation of Democrats.

Pelosi has served as Speaker between 2007 and 2011, and since 2019. As Speaker, she was instrumental in helping pass arguably the most significant piece of recent U.S. legislation — president Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010.

She was also front and centre during Donald Trump's presidency, shrugging off his frequent verbal insults while leading the House to an unprecedented two impeachments of the 45th president.

During the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, riot in which a mob in denial of Trump's failed re-election bid breached the Capitol, voices were heard in the halls yelling for Pelosi. Several individuals gained access to Pelosi's office and stole items while she was elsewhere on the grounds, resulting in criminal prosecutions.

"American democracy is majestic but it is fragile," she said in her speech. "Many of us here have witnessed our fragility first-hand, tragically in this chamber. And so democracy must be forever defended from forces that wish it harm."

The attacker at her San Francisco home on Oct. 28 is also alleged to have wanted to confront her.

35 years in Congress

Pelosi, the daughter of Thomas D'Alessandro, both a U.S. congressman and mayor of Baltimore, first entered the House in 1987. At the time, she was one of just two dozen women in the 435-member chamber, a number that climbed to 101 in the 117th session of Congress that's about to expire.

Pelosi is seen at the White House on Sept. 11, 2007, with then-president George W. Bush. Pelosi became Speaker earlier that year, later helping to support the Bush administration plan to rescue segments of the financial industry. (Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

She was 47 at the time, having given birth to five children in less than seven years and supported local Democratic causes in Northern California.

"I never would have thought that someday I would go from homemaker to House Speaker," she said Thursday.

Pelosi succeeded Dick Gephardt as House Minority Leader in 2002, becoming the first woman to lead a U.S. party on Capitol Hill.

"I'm not finished yet. I've been waiting over 200 years for this," she said at the time.

Pelosi opposed the George W. Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and became Speaker after the Republicans lost the 2006 midterms. One of her most consequential decisions early on was to marshal House Democratic support for a Wall Street bailout package in the final weeks of Bush's presidency in 2008 as a global financial crisis erupted.

Just over a year later, Pelosi was seen as a driving force in corralling reluctant Democrats in battleground districts into supporting Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a pen given to her by U.S. President Barack Obama after signing the landmark health care insurance reform legislation at the White House on March 23, 2010. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

"We will go through the gate," she said at the height of negotiations. "If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole-vault in. If that doesn't work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health-care reform passed."

Signed into law in March 2010, it has expanded access to health insurance for tens of millions of Americans.

But she found herself back in the minority position, succeeded as Speaker by John Boehner, after the Republicans drubbed the Democrats in the 2014 midterms.

Pelosi regained the gavel as Speaker at the midway point of Trump's presidency. 

Trump's penchant for allowing cameras into White House meetings with members of both parties meant the public saw Pelosi on more than one occasion joust with, and fact-check, Trump.

Departing the White House coolly after one such occasion, Pelosi inspired internet memes, her red Max Mara coat soon rushed back into production by the designer. On another occasion, Glamour magazine marvelled at her eight-hour defence of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the House while wearing her trademark stilettos.

Internal criticisms

A supporter of NAFTA in the 1990s, Pelosi has at times rankled progressive members of her party for what they saw as coziness with corporate America. Her estimated net worth — her husband has been a venture capitalist — is over $100 million US.

She has also defended stock purchases by Congress members despite a number of fresh controversies involving members of both parties.

Nancy Pelosi is seen with her husband Paul at a White House state dinner on June 7, 2011. Paul Pelosi was hospitalized for several days after an intruder attacked him last month at the couple's San Francisco residence. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

After Democrats recaptured House control in the 2018 midterms, a new wave of progressive members — highlighted by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and the so-called Squad members — were more publicly vocal in occasional criticisms of Democratic leadership in matters of policy and impeachment. Pelosi deputies James Clyburn and Steny Hoyer are also over 80 years old.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, Pelosi eventually approved the House select committee examining the events leading to that day. While Republican House leadership rejected both a commission and a committee, Pelosi was able to recruit Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to the panel.

Footage played at the most recent committee hearing showed Pelosi on the day of the Capitol riot, coolly working the phones to try and ensure police and military reinforcements were coming to protect members of Congress, while also excoriating Trump.

With the House now in Republican control effective in January, that committee is expected to disband, but not before producing a final report.