Voices: Nancy Pelosi’s latest move has changed the game

Nancy Pelosi  (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Nancy Pelosi (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

After months of speculation about her next move, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just announced she’s running for re-election in 2024.

The legendary California lawmaker, who turned 83 this year, has been in Congress for 36 years, led the House Democratic caucus for 20 years, and was the first woman Speaker of the House. Now, with the honorary title of Speaker Emeritus, Pelosi’s announcement clears the potential primary field and puts her on the path toward an almost certain re-election.

After Republicans won the House majority last year, Pelosi stepped down from leadership, paving the way for her protege, Rep Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), to take over as the first Black leader of the House Democratic caucus. This left many wondering whether she would begin to take a backseat and let the next generation of Democratic leaders take the reigns. But the political powerhouse has chosen to remain involved in strategy, advising the new Democratic leadership team. Pelosi now looks ready to maintain her influence, helping to guide House Democrats into this new era and potentially into a new majority in 2024.

Regardless of how you may feel about her, no one can deny that Pelosi has been a historically effective lawmaker and Democratic leader. From being the chief architect in securing consequential legislative victories like the Affordable Care Act in 2009 to carefully guiding the party into winning a historically diverse majority in 2018, Pelosi has done it all. In 2023, it appears she’s not ready to fade into the background fully and believes she still has more to give to her party.

The 2024 election is yet another incredibly important American contest that will define the nation. President Joe Biden will be running for re-election against Donald Trump, or one of his several imitators seeking to outdo his level of authoritarianism. A Nancy Pelosi fully engaged in both her own re-election and the broader House Democratic effort to retake the majority will be a great asset. Pelosi’s shrewd political eye and tactical cleverness have come in clutch in high-stakes races.

In 2018, for example, Pelosi was able to walk a fine line and lead a big-tent Democratic Party. She kept Democrats primarily focused on the issue of Obamacare, which was facing ill-advised Republican repeal efforts. Another notable microcosm of her leadership style is how she handled candidates in key battleground districts with a large Republican constituency. In stark contrast to the more fragile egos we see among her counterparts, Pelosi encouraged Democratic candidates to criticize her if it helped them win.

In response to a question about candidates pledging not to support her in a future speakership bid, Pelosi famously told Politico: “I think if they have to do that to win the election, I’m all for winning. I think many of them are saying we need new leadership. I don’t take offense at that. I’m okay. Just win, baby.” That interview was in May 2018. In November 2018, Democrats gained 41 seats and neted the largest amount of seats for the party since the post-Watergate midterms of 1974.

Pelosi also has a reputation as a powerful fundraiser, not only for herself but for fellow Democratic candidates and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). She will undoubtedly continue to flex her fundraising prowess as we approach the 2024 election. And if Democrats retake the majority, we can bet she will continue to advise the likely next Speaker of the House, Hakeem Jeffries, helping to guide legislative priorities and utilizing her ever-present vote-counting talent.

While some may argue that it’s time for her to retire given her age, her re-election bid does nothing to obstruct the next generation of Democratic Leadership. Pelosi has already stepped down from leadership in an official capacity, and there have been no reports of Pelosi undermining House Minority Leader Jeffries in any way. The pros of her continued presence in Democratic politics heavily outweigh the cons.

But, of course, the context of this announcement can’t be overlooked. This comes amid reasonable criticism and calls for Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to immediately step down. Feinstein, age 90, has grappled with numerous health issues, including falls, hospitalizations, and memory lapses in recent years. She has said she will retire after her term ends in 2024, but no sooner. McConnell, age 81, has suffered from multiple falls this year and publicly froze during two press conferences in recent months. McConnell has claimed he will not retire or relinquish his leadership post before his term ends in 2026.

Pelosi’s announcement also comes amid concerns about President Joe Biden’s age, who will be 81 heading into the general election next year. On the other hand, the current frontrunner of the GOP primary, Donald Trump, is only three years younger than Biden. It’s important to note that Biden and Trump have not faced the kind of significant health concerns McConnell or Feinstein have faced, nor has Pelosi.

I certainly agree that it’s time for a younger generation of leaders to step up, particularly in Feinstein and McConnell’s case. But in the case of Pelosi, unlike McConnell, she’s already done her part in empowering that younger generation by stepping down from leadership. I think the vigor of youthful leaders and the wisdom of elder advisors is a necessary combination to have in a political party.

After the brutal attack on her husband, Paul, some thought Nancy Pelosi could be motivated to retire. But she’s showcasing she’s unafraid of her detractors and will still be a resilient force in American politics. I don’t think you’ll find many Democrats arguing that a Pelosi with skin in the game isn’t a force to be reckoned with. Her re-election and continued involvement in Democratic strategy is good news for the party’s future and their hopes of regaining the majority.