Will Nancy Pelosi Be the Next to Retire?

Her allies are stepping down, but the former speaker says she’ll run again in 2014.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) answers questions during a press conference October 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. Pelosi answered questions on the problems surrounding the website for the Affordable Care Act during her remarks. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Josh Kraushaar
Jan. 30, 2014, 6:58 a.m.

With Rep. Henry Wax­man’s re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment, many of House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi’s top lieu­ten­ants are abandon­ing ship. Wax­man joins his Cali­for­nia col­league, Rep. George Miller, and Rep. Jim Mor­an of Vir­gin­ia as close Pelosi al­lies to re­tire after this Con­gress. And after last year’s 2012 elec­tions, Pelosi’s lead­ing in-house strategist Jen Crider left her of­fice, later an­noun­cing she was work­ing for Mi­crosoft.

Their de­cisions are as strong a sig­nal as any that vet­er­an House Demo­crats hold little hope of tak­ing the House in 2014, and they prob­ably are pess­im­ist­ic about their long-term pro­spects for a con­gres­sion­al ma­jor­ity. Miller and Wax­man would be in line to chair in­flu­en­tial com­mit­tees if their party took con­trol of the cham­ber. A third Demo­crat, Rep. Col­lin Peterson of Min­nesota, wouldn’t com­mit to run­ning again in an in­ter­view this week. He would be in line to head up the Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee in a Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity.

Demo­crats need to net 17 seats to hand Pelosi the gavel, and ana­lysts ex­pect little move­ment, with Pres­id­ent Obama’s low ap­prov­al rat­ings and re­dis­trict­ing re­du­cing the num­ber of com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts.

The de­cisions by Pelosi’s Cali­for­nia al­lies also raise the pro­spect that the minor­ity lead­er her­self could de­cide to re­tire — if not this year, then in the near fu­ture. (On pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, Pelosi has said she’s run­ning for a 14th term.) She’s played an act­ive role in help­ing her party fun­draise to take back the House, and she has shown no signs of slow­ing down. But Cali­for­nia’s fil­ing dead­line is more than a month away (March 7), giv­ing her time to change course. 

In a state­ment re­leased this af­ter­noon, Pelosi re­it­er­ated she is run­ning for an­oth­er term.

“I’m run­ning. I’ve already star­ted the pa­per­work pro­cess. My work is not fin­ished,” she said.

Wax­man and Miller’s re­tire­ments also un­der­score how out­sized a role Pelosi has played in her home state’s polit­ics, to her be­ne­fit in Con­gress, but also to the na­tion­al party’s det­ri­ment.

Be­fore the 2012 non­par­tis­an re­dis­trict­ing, most House seats in Cali­for­nia were ger­ry­mandered to the point where most mem­bers stayed in their seats in­def­in­itely. (Be­fore the last elec­tion, the av­er­age ten­ure among Cali­for­nia mem­bers of Con­gress in 2012 was just un­der 16 years.) Many of the more seni­or mem­bers de­veloped close ties with Pelosi, and sought to move up the con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship chain in­stead of pur­su­ing statewide polit­ic­al of­fice.

In­deed, it’s strik­ing that the list of pro­spect­ive 2016 can­did­ates is filled with politicos from the oth­er Demo­crat­ic strong­hold of New York — Hil­lary Clin­ton, Gov. An­drew Cuomo, Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand — but there’s no one from Cali­for­nia on the list. Prom­ising Cali­for­nia Demo­crat­ic mem­bers of Con­gress, such as House Demo­crat­ic Caucus Chair­man Xavi­er Be­cerra, pre­ferred to move up the ranks than think big­ger.

That’s changed re­cently, thanks to a re­dis­trict­ing shake-up and Demo­crat­ic ef­forts to re­cruit young­er, more di­verse tal­ent to the state. The Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee made a con­cer­ted ef­fort in 2012 to re­cruit a di­verse crop of out­siders, bring­ing in new­comers such as emer­gency phys­i­cian Raul Ruiz and Mark Takano, the first openly gay per­son of col­or to hold a seat in Con­gress.

Cali­for­nia has changed dra­mat­ic­ally since Wax­man was first elec­ted in 1974 as part of a class of un­apo­lo­get­ic­ally lib­er­al Demo­crats. Pelosi re­flec­ted her del­eg­a­tion’s out­spoken lib­er­al­ism to a T. But as a new gen­er­a­tion of Demo­crats are get­ting elec­ted around her, she could very well be Cali­for­nia’s next mem­ber of Con­gress to step aside.

CLA­RI­FIC­A­TION: The story was up­dated to re­flect that Crider’s de­par­ture an­nounce­ment was made in Ju­ly, but ac­cord­ing to a Pelosi spokes­man, she stopped work­ing for the DCCC in Decem­ber 2012.

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