Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is seeking a delicate balance in the new Congress where she’s ceded her official leadership duties but still exerts outsized influence within a caucus she piloted for 20 years.
The unusual dynamics — Pelosi is the first Speaker in almost two decades to remain in Congress after stepping out of power — have left the newly designated “Speaker Emerita” with the fragile task of navigating a new role in which she hopes to remain a potent voice for her district and her party without stepping on the toes of the Democrats’ new leadership team.
That’s no easy feat for an historic figure who maintains a national profile, is still shadowed by a security detail and retains a degree of authority unique in the House chamber.
Yet as lawmakers hit the 100-day mark of the new Congress, Democrats of all stripes said that, so far, she’s pulling it off.
“It is a difficult balancing act, but I think she’s managed it superbly,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), another West Coast liberal who has served with Pelosi for almost three decades. “She’s been respectful to the new Democratic leadership — clearly being helpful, but not stepping on them, their message, or getting in their way. It’s just been artful.”
It also appears to be by design.
In stepping out of the leadership ranks after Democrats lost control of the House last November, Pelosi said she would focus more of her energies on delivering for her San Francisco district. She also suggested she would take pains not to encroach on Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and the new, younger crop of Democrats who accompanied him into the top leadership spots vacated by Pelosi and her two longtime deputies, Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.).
“I have no intention of being the mother-in-law in the kitchen saying, ‘My son doesn’t like the stuffing that way,’” Pelosi told reporters shortly after announcing her plans to step down.
“They will have their vision; they will have their plan.”
Pelosi this week amplified that message, praising the new leadership team for doing “a terrific job” while expressing appreciation for the many opportunities she continues to enjoy as honorary Speaker.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by generous invitations to speak across the country and around the world,” Pelosi said Thursday in an email. “Yet there is no greater honor for me than to speak for the people of San Francisco in the United States Congress.”
Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) said the former Speaker is making good on her promises.
“I see no evidence that there is any tension whatsoever,” Higgins said. “The Speaker has stayed in the background — literally and figuratively. And that is what she said she was going to do in deference to a new leadership team, and I think all evidence indicates that’s exactly what she has done.”
Yet while Pelosi has kept a much lower profile in her new role, she’s hardly faded into the furniture. Jeffries, for one, said he speaks with Pelosi frequently as he gains his footing as the new head of the party.
“It’s been wonderful for me to be able to consistently talk to Speaker Pelosi, lean on her for her advice, her thoughts, her guidance, her suggestions, her experience as the greatest Speaker of all time,” Jeffries said earlier in the year. “The factual and historical record, in my view, makes that indisputable.”
Other Democrats delivered a similar message, saying Pelosi‘s transition out of leadership has made her more accessible to rank-and-file members seeking her counsel.
“People come up to her on the floor. They’re interested, they’re concerned, they have questions,” Blumenauer said. “And she’s a tremendous resource.”
Not everyone in the House, of course, is thrilled to have Pelosi hanging around. Republicans, for decades, have accused her of advancing “socialist” policies they deem destructive to American innovation and free markets. And those attacks haven’t let up since Pelosi has stepped out of the leadership spotlight.
“Nancy Pelosi, honestly, should either be removed from Congress — she needs to retire on her own [or] she needs to be kicked out,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told The Hill this week by phone. “That is my personal feelings about her policies; they’re that disruptive.”
Still, even a conservative firebrand like Greene — who was booted from her committees in the last Congress with Pelosi’s blessing — said Pelosi’s knack for wielding power is deserving of acclaim.
“Nancy Pelosi is someone I greatly respect for the career that she was able to build and the power that she was able to gain and wield, and she did it well,” Greene said. “She passed the Democrat agenda … She got the job done.”
However long she remains in Congress, Pelosi’s place in history is secure. She was elected House Democratic leader in 2003, and rose again four years later to become the country’s first female Speaker. After eight years in the minority wilderness, she took the gavel again in 2019, stepping down from leadership only this year after Republicans seized control of the House.
Over those years, she helped to enact some of the most consequential legislation of the last half-century, including ObamaCare, Wall Street reforms and a massive climate bill. And she orchestrated the impeachment of former President Trump, not once but twice.
That legislative track record is another reason Democrats say they’re happy to have Pelosi remain a part of the team.
“There is a lot she knows about negotiation and getting things done,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
The practical changes in Pelosi’s daily routine are subtle but real.
Pelosi’s office releases far fewer statements on daily news items than she did when she was party leader, but when they do arrive they still tend to churn headlines — a testament to the weight she still holds.
Her praise of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) meeting with Taiwan’s president drew widespread coverage; her two-sentence statement on Trump’s recent indictment turned heads; and her endorsement of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for Senate over two of her House colleagues was noted widely.
Most recently, Pelosi’s defense of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) amid calls for her resignation carried significant weight, especially after two House Democrats said the Senate stalwart should step down as she remains sidelined from Washington while battling shingles.
Inevitably, Pelosi’s schedule has also seen a change this year.
As Democratic leader, she was famous for keeping an excruciating pace — in the Capitol, on fundraising trips around the country and research excursions abroad — and sleeping very little. (She once claimed to sleep four hours a night as Speaker, and five-and-a-half as minority leader.)
Stepping out of leadership has given Pelosi a new luxury — time — which has allowed her to spend more hours at home with her husband, Paul Pelosi, as he recovers from a violent attack at the couple’s San Francisco home just before the midterms.
“She has time to herself,” Blumenauer said. “I’ve watched her for 25 years be in constant motion, juggling this, reaching out there, dealing with votes and paper and strategy and incoming crises. And this is a chance for her to exhale, to do what she does best in terms of being a thoughtful member of Congress. And I think she’s delighting in it.
“I think it’s going to add years to her life.”
This is part of a series from The Hill on the House GOP’s first 100 days in power. Check out more coverage on TheHill.com.