Nancy Pelosi steps down as Democratic Party leader in US House

Speaker of the House of Representatives to remain on as a backbencher

Nancy Pelosi is to step down as Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.

Ms Pelosi, in an address to the House on Thursday, said she will remain as a backbench member when the next US Congress meets in January, representing her constituents in San Francisco.

She will also remain as speaker of the House of Representatives for the remainder of the congressional session which runs until December.

The opposition Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives in January but are likely to have a small majority. The Republican Party has nominated Kevin McCarthy as its candidate for speaker. However, he has faced criticism from members of a right-wing faction within his own party and it remains to be seen whether he will have sufficient support to be made speaker in January.


The decision of Ms Pelosi (82) to step down means there is likely to be significant changes in the leadership of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.

Her announcement came after Democrats fared far better in the recent elections to the House than had been anticipated. However, it also came in the aftermath of the assault on her husband, Paul Pelosi, in their home in San Francisco by a man wielding a hammer. Prosecutors maintained the attack had been politically motivated.

Ms Pelosi has been a member of the House of Representatives for 35 years and was the first woman to serve as speaker.

In her address on Thursday, she said the hour had come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus, adding: “I am grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”

Ms Pelosi said her career had moved from “homemaker to House speaker”.

She pointed to the fragility of democracy in the United States, recalling the attack on the Capitol on January 6th last year by supporters of former president Donald Trump. However she said voters had “stood in the breach and repelled the assault on democracy” last week by rejecting candidates who continued to cast doubt on the 2020 election.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives, also said he would not seek a leadership position in the next Congress. This could lead the way for the emergence of a younger group of Democratic leaders such as Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Pete Aguilar of California.

US president Joe Biden said on Thursday that history would note that Ms Pelosi was the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“Because of Nancy Pelosi, the lives of millions and millions of Americans are better, even in districts represented by Republicans who voted against her bills and too often vilify her. That’s Nancy – always working for the dignity of all of the people. And, as a fierce defender of democracy through our laws, history will also note her fierceness and resolve to protect our democracy from the violent, deadly insurrection of January 6th.

“It’s a threat of political violence and intimidation that continues and she and her family know all too well, but that will never stop her from serving our nation. She might be stepping down from her leadership role in the House Democratic Caucus, but she will never waiver in protecting our sacred democracy.”

Ms Pelosi secured the speaker’s position on two occasions, after the 2006 and 2018 elections.

She was a critic of the Iraq War and played a key role in securing the enacting several pieces of landmark legislation, such as president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the American Rescue Plan introduced to help the country deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, and Mr Biden’s infrastructure initiative to rebuild roads, railways and bridges.

Ms Pelosi had a very strained relationship with Mr Trump, on one occasion tearing up a copy of his State of the Union address to the US Congress as she sat in the speaker’s chair behind him.

As speaker, she twice impeached Mr Trump. She was frequently the subject of strong criticism from Mr Trump and other Republicans.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent