House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that she would run for a 19th consecutive congressional term in California’s June 7 top-two primary. There is certainly no one in her San Francisco district who can deny her that opportunity, though some ambitious Democrats might have fantasized about it.
Some observers who recall her 2018 pledge to step down as Speaker after the 2021-2022 117th Congress may have been surprised by the announcement. But Pelosi never said she’d leave the House just because she’s handing over the gavel and the role of Democratic leader. Yes, it’s become common for big-time Washington powerhouses to go home altogether when they lose their lofty perches (two of her recent predecessors, John Boehner and Newt Gingrich, both resigned their seats in the middle of terms upon giving up the Speakership under intra-party pressure). But it’s not necessary, and Pelosi’s explanation that she wanted to stay in office to deal with the unfinished business of defending democracy was perfectly plausible.
It’s still possible, of course, that Pelosi will change her mind about her self-imposed term limit as the top House Democrat, though she made that commitment in order to head off a leadership challenge in 2018. But with Republicans strongly favored to take control of the House in the 2022 midterms (they will only need a net gain of five seats to do so), no one would begrudge Pelosi the option of going out as leader in the majority, and turning over the job of clawing back House control to someone younger, probably the odds-on favorite, Brooklyn’s Hakeem Jeffries (Pelosi’s fellow octogenarians Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, currently second and third in the leadership, are expected to follow her example at the end of this term; Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is fourth in the leadership at present).
If Republicans do indeed flip the House in November, Pelosi would likely have the bitter responsibility of handing off the gavel to her California rival, Kevin McCarthy. Perhaps she wants to stick around in the House to watch him struggle with his fractious troops while keeping an eye on likely 2024 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. In any event, as one of the great House Speakers in living memory, Pelosi has richly earned the right to leave on her own terms.