WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday affirmed a promise she made to her caucus two years ago that she would give up the gavel after the 117th Congress.
Ahead of the 116th Congress, Pelosi cut a deal with a handful of members threatening to vote against her for speaker on the floor. To win their support, the California Democrat agreed to allow the caucus to vote on proposed term limits for the top three Democratic leaders and to abide by the proposal herself regardless of whether it was adopted.
At a news conference Wednesday, shortly after the Democratic Caucus nominated Pelosi to serve as speaker again, she said, “What I said then is whether it passes or not, I will abide by those limits that are there.”
House Democrats also elected Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark as assistant speaker, making her the second-highest ranking woman ever in Democratic leadership, behind Pelosi.
Clark, 57, who got her start in leadership this Congress as caucus vice chair, beat Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, 59, the outgoing chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, for the No. 4 position in the caucus. The vote was 135-92.
In 2018, before she cut the term-limit deal, Pelosi had been reticent to pinpoint how long she would stay, noting she doesn’t want to make herself a lame duck. That’s why even after agreeing to the term limit for herself, she’s not talked about it and why on Wednesday she avoided saying directly that her next term would be her last.
“I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement,” Pelosi said Wednesday, affirming as best she could that she plans to be a woman of her word.
Some members had wanted Pelosi to affirm her commitment to the term limit, and doing so probably helps her heading into a January floor vote where she can’t afford more than a handful of defections. Democrats will have a single-digit majority — the specific number of which will be determined by the outcomes of uncalled House races — and at least 10 of the Democrats who voted against Pelosi two years ago are returning to Congress.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn opposed the term-limit proposal and never agreed to abide by it.
It’s unclear if they plan to try to succeed Pelosi after she leaves or go with her, although Clyburn has indicated previously he no longer aspires to be speaker.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and newly elected Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark are considered potential successors to Pelosi.