Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she is staying on as the top House Democrat to ensure the continued advancement of the nation’s women, and she said the pleas of her colleagues who wanted her to stay overcame the concerns of family to hang it up.
Pelosi was flanked Wednesday by dozens current and newly elected female Democrats whom she called the “future of empowerment of women in America.”
The minority leader had just announced her intention to keep her post in a closed Democratic Caucus meeting. Speaking after Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel introduced the newly elected Democratic lawmakers, Pelosi said, “I’ll stay on if Steve Israel stays on as chairman of the DCCC.”
Her colleagues erupted with applause, according to people in the room, and lawmakers exiting the meeting were quick to praise Pelosi’s decision.
But the call to serve for another two years in the minority thwarts the ambitions of her second-in-command and sometimes rival, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
It also freezes the current leadership in place, leaving a trio of would-be leaders — Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and John B. Larson of Connecticut — without an obvious slot to fill.
Asked about her plans, Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has been calling members for support over past months without saying what she would be running for, said only, “I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done from the first day I became a member of Congress, which is help Democrats win their elections.”
Hoyer and Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina are both running to keep their own slots, their offices said.
In the Pelosi press conference, the questions about pent-up demand from a next generation of Democrats led to a testy confrontation between the minority leader and NBC reporter Luke Russert, who asked whether keeping the younger Democrats bottled up “hurts the party in the long term.”
The female lawmakers surrounding Pelosi instantly began booing and criticizing the question as, in the words of New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, “age discrimination.”
Pelosi, who described the question as “quite offensive, but you don’t realize it I guess,” responded that reporters “always ask that question except to [Republican] Mitch McConnell,” who is 70.
And yet, the question of how to get new blood into the Democratic leadership team is one that rank-and-file members frequently mention.
Pelosi said her brother Tommy wasn’t “keen” on her staying, while her children were more encouraging. “I guess my kids were busy,” she joked.
The California Democrat declined to say what advice President Barack Obama had offered her, but said her House colleagues had repeatedly told her, “don’t even think of leaving.”
Pelosi said she made her final decision late Tuesday.
Although the minority leader position is a far cry from wielding the speaker’s gavel she once held, Pelosi said this year’s election results, while far from returning Democrats the majority, offered her an improved climate to stay on in.
Particularly with Obama being re-elected, “I don’t want to say it’s better than having the gavel, but it’s better than it was the last term,” she said. Some of the “anti-government ideologues” are gone and “that message has largely been rejected,” Pelosi said.