(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stepping down from House Democratic leadership but will remain in Congress.
Pelosi, 82, made the announcement in a dramatic floor speech on Thursday after gaveling the House into session, receiving a hearty standing ovation from her colleagues.
“With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress,” Pelosi said, noting she will continue to represent her California district, as she has for 35 years. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect.”
The first woman to hold House speakership — Pelosi is the Democratic Party’s longest-serving House leader. Her decision will have a major impact on Democrats in their new position as House minority.
Pelosi’s fellow California delegation sat in the front of the chamber as the announcement was made.
House Democratic leadership — Reps. Pete Aguilar, Katherine Clark, Hakeem Jeffries, Jim Clyburn and Steny Hoyer — all sat together in the chamber, and were joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Not many Republicans were in the chamber to hear her speech. Notably absent was House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who celebrated his party’s control of the House Wednesday night by telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “We have fired Nancy Pelosi.”
Pelosi began her speech with an ode to the Capitol itself, describing how she saw it for the first time when she was young as she accompanied her father, the late Maryland Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., to his swearing-ceremony.
“This is the most beautiful building in the world because of what it represents,” Pelosi said. “The Capitol is a temple of our democracy, of our Constitution, of our highest ideals.”
“When I first came to the floor at 6 years old, never would I have thought that I would go from homemaker to House speaker,” she said.
Pelosi reflected on her time working with “three presidents”: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Joe Biden — notably not mentioning former President Donald Trump.
She celebrated the increase in diversity of the caucus over the years, noting when she came to Congress in the 1990s there were just 12 Democratic women in the group. Today, she said, there’s more than 90.
“And we want more,” she said, which received another standing ovation.
Pelosi’s spokesperson Drew Hammil said Wednesday she planned to make remarks on her political future, doing so just hours after ABC News projected that Republicans had officially won majority control in the U.S. House, ending a four-year Democratic majority despite a strong midterm showing for the party.
Pelosi delivered a warning in her speech that the Jan. 6 insurrection showed the democracy is still fragile, and so “must be forever defended.”
And despite losing the House, Pelosi said the midterm elections showed Americans “resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection, and in doing so, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
“And now we owe to the American people our very best to deliver on their faith, to forever reach for the more perfect union, the glorious horizon that our founders promised,” she said.
A source told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that Pelosi took home two different versions of floor speeches Wednesday night. As she arrived at the Capitol Thursday morning, Pelosi, wearing white and flanked by her top aides, did not respond to questions about her political future.
Pelosi had said the attack on her husband Paul would impact her decision to stay in House leadership post-midterms. On Thursday, she took a moment to thank and praise her husband as “my beloved partner in life and my pillar of support.”
Prior to the attack, several members have called for a younger generation of Democratic leadership. The top three Democrats in the House are all in their 80s.
While it’s unknown who exactly will succeed Pelosi, she addressed the next generation of leaders on Thursday, saying she’s “grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.”
Among the top contenders for the jobs are Jeffries of New York for speaker, Clark of Massachusetts for minority whip and California’s Pete Aguilar is expected to be the caucus chair.
The current two other top leaders in the Democratic caucus, Hoyer and Clyburn, are stepping aside from their roles. The leadership elections are scheduled for the end of November.
President Joe Biden released a lengthy statement just after the speech concluded chronicling Pelosi’s career with praise and commending her for her “dignity.”
“Because of Nancy Pelosi, the lives of millions and millions of Americans are better,” Biden said, “even in districts represented by Republicans who voted against her bills and too often vilify her.”
“History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history,” the president said. “There are countless examples of how she embodies the obligation of elected officials to uphold their oath to God and country to ensure our democracy delivers and remains a beacon to the world.”
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