Why Nancy Pelosi wants to stay on as House minority leader

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is set to preside over the most diverse House Democratic Caucus in history, with a majority being women and minorities. But her continuation was the subject of GOP scrutiny.

Mary F. Calvert/Reuters
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 14.

Though denied the speaker’s gavel for another term, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) said she simply couldn’t leave her post as House minority leader in the coming congressional term because she’s got plenty left to do – and plenty to fight for in a session that could include weighty debates over tax and entitlement reform.

“Being actively involved in politics at this level is really insatiable,” Representative Pelosi said at a Wednesday press conference, flanked by her female Democratic colleagues. “There aren’t enough hours in the day for me. There’s so much more I want to do.”

Among the things on Congress’s agenda in 2013 will probably be dealing with America’s long-term debt and deficits, a discussion that is likely to involve weighing changes to core Democratic priorities like Medicare. Keeping leader Pelosi – a top champion of President Obama’s health-care law – in the thick of those fights was a key issue for the House Democratic Caucus.

“You’ve done all the heavy lifting – now sit down at the table,” Pelosi said her colleagues told her as many nodded along at the press conference. “For some people in the general public, the thought of four men at that table was not an appealing sight, however excellent they may be.”

Pelosi, who became the first female speaker of the House after Democrats claimed the majority in the 2006 elections, said she took strength from Democrats’ showing in last week’s elections, highlighting two issues in particular – Mr. Obama’s victory and the historic diversity of the Democratic caucus.

“It’s almost liberating to be here, with a Democratic president whose commitment to the future is based on shared values with the American people,” Pelosi said. “I don’t want to say it’s better than having the gavel, but it’s better than the last term – infinitely better than the last term because some of the people, the antigovernment ideologues, some of them are gone, and that message has largely been rejected by the American people.”

But standing shoulder to shoulder with many of her 60 female Democratic House allies, she also heralded the diversity of the caucus as drawing her back to leadership. House Democrats will be the most diverse caucus in history, a majority of them being women and minorities.

“This picture before you is worth millions of votes. Millions of women’s votes that it took to reelect President Barack Obama, millions of women’s votes who helped us elect a record number of women to the Congress of the United States,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi’s return to leadership was the subject of some scrutiny, given her party’s inability to retake the House in 2012 and the fact that the longtime leaders of the House Democrats are of increasing age, potentially stalling the political advancement of younger party members.

Pelosi, perhaps the second most powerful fundraiser among Democratic elected officials behind the president himself, is also politically controversial: She was vilified by Republicans during their successful romp in the 2010 elections as the epitome of Washington liberalism, and afterward she faced a leadership challenge from blue dog Democrat Heath Shuler of North Carolina on the grounds that she had made Democrats unelectable in conservative territory.

On Wednesday, Pelosi’s announcement to continue in leadership was greeted with a Bronx cheer by Republicans.

“There is no better person to preside over the most liberal House Democratic Caucus in history than the woman who is solely responsible for relegating it to a prolonged minority status,” said Paul Lindsay, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, in a statement. “This decision signals that House Democrats have absolutely no interest in regaining the trust and confidence of the American people who took the Speaker’s gavel away from Nancy Pelosi in the first place.”

At the press conference Wednesday, Pelosi called a question about whether she and other septuagenarian members of the House Democratic leadership – minority whip Steny Hoyer, assistant leader James Clyburn, and Pelosi are all in their early 70s – should step aside to allow younger leaders room to move up “offensive.” Her colleagues on staged booed and called out “age discrimination.”

“Everything that I have done in this decade now of leadership has been to elect younger and newer people to the Congress,” Pelosi, who became the House minority leader 10 years ago, said.

“No,” she concluded on stepping aside. “The answer is no.”

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