House Democrats move from octogenarians to Gen X

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Having lost control of the House for the second time under her leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in a moving speech in the House chamber that she would retreat to the back benches of Congress.

Her decision not to seek a Democratic leadership position next term sets off a wholesale changing of the guard – Democrats’ first in decades.

Out with the octogenarians born before the baby boom. Pelosi, 82, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, 82, the top three congressional Democrats through four presidents, will all remain in Congress, but not seek those leadership spots.

Pelosi’s departure certainly marks the end of an era when she made history as the first and only woman to serve as speaker. She shattered that glass ceiling.

“When I came to the Congress in 1987, there were 12 Democratic women. Now there are over 90. And we want more,” she said in the speech, which was laced with a reverence for the institution she leads, and where her father first brought her when he was a congressman and she was a small child.

“When I first came to the floor at 6 years old, never would I have thought that someday I would go from homemaker to House speaker,” she said.

In with the Gen Xers born in the ’60s and ‘70s. Pelosi’s likely successor is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the 52-year-old Brooklyn and Queens congressman known to quote rap lyrics in floor speeches, such as when he invoked Notorious B.I.G. during then-President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.

If he obtains the position of Democratic leader, Jeffries would be the first Black man to lead a party on Capitol Hill. Democrats won’t vote until November 30.

Jeffries is, for now, running unopposed for the leadership position. Rep. Pete Aguilar, the 43-year-old who represents the Inland Empire of California, and Rep. Katherine Clark, the 59-year-old who represents a district outside Boston in eastern Massachusetts, were name-checked by Clyburn as possibilities for joining Jeffries in House Democratic leadership.

Pelosi, a dominant force among Democrats for two decades as their congressional leader, could probably have held on after a better-than-expected performance in the midterm election, with the GOP only clinching a slim majority in the House.

But she stayed true to a promise she made to quiet a brewing rebellion among House Democrats four years ago that she would step down as their leader after 2022.

Back then, Democrats had just reclaimed the majority from Republicans. Now they’re handing it back.

Her speech Thursday announcing she would not stand for election to the Democratic leadership served as a valedictory to her leadership career. She pointed to her work pushing clean energy with Republican President George W. Bush, the Affordable Care Act with Democratic President Barack Obama and infrastructure spending and health care and climate change legislation with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Although she has been parodied by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal, Pelosi fended off frustration from liberals and moderates in her party to stay on top and in charge for 20 years – an incredible run.

A bogeywoman for the right. She did not mention it in what amounted to a farewell address, but Pelosi has also been a motivating character in Republican attack ads for decades. She will stay in Congress, for now, but is unlikely to be the political villain for Republicans.

The attack ad that sticks with me from this most recent campaign cycle featured an image of the moderate Democrat, Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, made to look like Pelosi’s twin. Spanberger won the race, but Democrats will lose control of the House.

Physical attacks. The verbal attacks on Pelosi took an even more serious turn just before the election, when her husband Paul was attacked by a man with a hammer in their San Francisco home. She said her husband’s recovery is continuing. The alleged attacker pleaded not guilty to federal charges earlier this week.

Pleas to remain. Biden reportedly wanted Pelosi to stay on as leader, and so did Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. CNN’s Manu Raju reported Thursday that Pelosi went home Wednesday night with two versions of the speech, one in which she remained in leadership, and the one she delivered.

Looking forward. “Now we must move boldly into the future,” Pelosi told colleagues, adding that Democrats should be “grounded by the principles that have propelled us this far and open to fresh possibilities.”

That’s a solid message for a party that looks to appeal to young and diverse voters. It’s something Biden, who comes from the same era as Pelosi and is already the oldest president, will have to grapple with as he decides whether to seek reelection in 2024.

He has said it is his intention to run, and Democrats’ strong showing on Election Day should invigorate him, especially since he defeated a diverse field of younger Democrats to win his party’s nomination in 2020.

It’s something Republicans will also consider as Trump begins his third campaign for the White House. Trump is nearly as old as Biden, and many Republicans want their party to move forward too.

Things are about to change. The next two years will be tougher for Biden. Republicans are set to use their House majority to turn a microscope on his family and his administration.

A team of CNN reporters on Thursday published a fascinating look at how the White House has spent months preparing for the onslaught.

A team of lawyers has been holed up in an office building near the White House, and they plan to expand their defensive efforts now that Republicans have clinched a majority.

From the report: “You’re gonna have a bunch of chairmen who are totally on their own, doing whatever the hell they want without regard for what the national political implications are,” said Brendan Buck, a former top adviser to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said he believes GOP leader Kevin McCarthy will have “very little leash” to rein in those investigative pursuits.   Read the full story.

The rarefied problem of being a speaker and having to rein in members is something Pelosi will soon no longer have to worry about.

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