When the Democrats take over the House of Representatives in January, the speaker’s gavel will probably be returned to Nancy Pelosi, the body’s top officer and the highest-ranking woman in American political history.
Yet this month’s electoral results may be the beginning of the end for the California politician, who has been a powerhouse leader for the Democrats. The Brookings Institution’s Thomas E. Mann called her the “strongest and most effective speaker of modern times,” while Politico recently noted that she remains “the most successful nonpresidential political fundraiser in U.S. history.”
Pelosi has, unquestionably, been a force of nature, effecting legislative change under tough circumstances and raising huge sums of money for her party, while remaining a steadfast supporter of Israel and the Jewish community.
Not surprisingly, the Republican Party has treated her like the political adversary she is — targeting her in 2016 as a key player in the vaunted Obama-Clinton-Pelosi cabal, and going even further with its attacks during the recent midterm campaign season. Indeed, some GOP candidates for Congress ran against Pelosi: “The Pelosi-Craig agenda is higher taxes, sanctuary cities, and out-of-control spending,” a narrator intoned in an ad for Minnesota Republican Rep. Jason Lewis. “Angie Craig: Good for Pelosi, bad for Minnesota.”
Craig, the Democrat, won that contest. But the Republican effort against Pelosi has hurt her image — and not just among Republicans. “GOP’s demonization of Pelosi is so effective that even Democrats believe it,” read a headline in the Boston Globe.
It is that growing discomfort with Pelosi that creates a problem for her and for Democrats. Some within the party believe that with the coming change in control of the House, it’s time for Pelosi to step aside and make way for a new, less embattled leader. They argue that newly energized Democrats in Congress need representation that shares a sense of vitality and forward movement, and it may be that Pelosi can no longer do that. And they worry that if the party is going to bring in new adherents, it will need to shed some of its past baggage — and from an optics standpoint if no other, Pelosi is a problem for a “new” Democratic Party.
The ideal solution would be for the party to acknowledge and celebrate Pelosi’s past successes and her undeniable competence, while at the same time actively encouraging her to help pick her successor. She has been a firm guiding hand for her party; she could likewise be a mentor and guide to a new speaker. But that’s not likely to happen.
Rather, Democrat House members will elect a speaker on Jan. 3, and it will likely be Pelosi. Nonetheless, there is speculation that maybe she will agree to a two-year term, which will allow for a planned transition as part of the party’s overall 2020 strategy.
If that’s the case, the Republicans will be waiting.