House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who hopes to be speaker next year if Democrats win a chamber majority, suggested Monday that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election would factor into her decision on how long to stay in Congress.
The 78-year-old California Democrat has long signaled that she sees her congressional career coming to an end in the not-so-distant future.
Pelosi had been prepared to retire after the 2016 election if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency. But she decided to stay on after Donald Trump’s election to ensure there would be a woman at the negotiating table as the other top three congressional leaders are all men.
As Pelosi wraps up her 15th full term in the House representing San Francisco and eighth term as Democratic leader, she acknowledged she is thinking about the right time to exit.
“There has to be a transition at some point in all of this,” she told CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday at the network’s inaugural CITIZEN conference.
Bash asked Pelosi about comments she made to the Los Angeles Times last week.
“I see myself as a transitional figure,” the minority leader told the newspaper. “I have things to do. Books to write; places to go; grandchildren, first and foremost, to love.”
Bash pressed Pelosi on whether she would only serve temporarily if elected speaker, and the Democrat provided the same answer she did to the LA Times.
“Well, I’m not going to make myself a lame duck,” she said. “I wouldn’t advise that.”
Pelosi cited her “special understanding, institutional memory” of the legislative process as reasons for her to stick around for the time being. And she suggested that the outcome of the 2020 election, like 2016, will be a factor in her decision on how long to stay.
“We’ll see what happens in the presidential [election] coming up,” she said, noting that the race will start shortly after the midterms.
Pelosi said she has no plans to run for president herself, because she loves the legislative process.
“I’m trying to promote Jerry Brown to do it, but he’s not taking the bait,” she said of the California governor who is retiring after four nonconsecutive terms.
Pelosi offered no other indication of whom she would like to see run in 2020 — or whether any Democrat besting Trump would be enough to convince her to retire. She likely won’t endorse anyone in the Democratic presidential primary or reveal whether she’s ready to retire until after the general.
Pelosi said she isn’t focused on 2020, though. She’s put all her energy into helping her party take back the House next month.
“If the election were held today, the Democrats would handily win the House,” Pelosi said at the CNN event.
The prediction is one Pelosi has made repeatedly over the past several months, but this time she added the adjective “handily.”
“I can only speak in the present tense because you never know in a couple of weeks,” she qualified.
When Bash asked her if she was confident she’d be elected speaker again if Democrats do take back the majority, Pelosi provided her typical answer.
“Well, it’s up to them to make that decision, but I feel pretty comfortable where I am,” she said.
Pelosi talked up her abilities as a legislator, as she often does, never shying away from self-promotion even though she has said it’s a “terrible thing.” But recently Pelosi has begun to explain the reason she feels it is important to tout her own accomplishments.
“I say this because I want women to be confident, and don’t let anybody minimize what you have to offer,” she said.
Pelosi has applied that confidence not only to herself but to her caucus, as she’s campaigned around the country talking up the House Democrats’ “For the People” agenda.
“This election, more than anything, is about health care,” she said Monday.
She said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave Democrats a gift last week by saying he wants to restructure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as repeal the 2020 health care law.
“I don’t know what he was thinking, but I’m glad he was maybe not thinking,” she said.
While Democrats have ruled out cuts to entitlement programs, Pelosi acknowledged the party will need to work with Republicans on some issues. One she sees as ripe for bipartisanship is infrastructure.
But when Bash asked if she was confident that was an area Democrats could find common ground with Trump, Pelosi suggested she wouldn’t put any faith in the president.
“Does anybody feel confident about that? No,” she said, but noted, “I hope so.”
As for congressional Republicans, Pelosi said people ask her all the time when they’ll turn on Trump, and she tells them, “Never. He’s their guy.”
When it comes to Republican policy positions, including opposition to abortion rights or gun control, Pelosi said, “There’s nothing that he’s about that they haven’t been about longer or worse.”