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Pelosi to Step Down as House Speaker, but Pledges to Continue Representing San Francisco

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Nancy Pelosi stands in white at a podium at the House, clad in white, smiling, one hand outstretched, palm up.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, on the House floor on Nov. 17, 2022, announcing her intention to relinquish her leadership role. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Since her political ascension in 1987, Nancy Pelosi has been praised by her backers as a stalwart Democratic Party leader, skewered by her detractors for championing “liberal San Francisco values,” and respected by those from both camps as an unrivaled political dealmaker.

After this election, however, there’s one thing you won’t be able to call her: Madam Speaker.

On the House floor on Thursday, Pelosi announced she would step down from her House leadership role, but pledged to continue representing San Francisco.

“My friends, no matter what title you’ve bestowed upon me — speaker, leader, whip — there is no greater official honor for me than to stand on this floor and to speak for the people of San Francisco. This I will continue to do as a member of the House,” she said. “For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic Caucus that I so deeply respect.”

Pelosi’s announcement comes on the heels of her party losing the House majority, by the narrowest of margins, to Republicans in the midterm elections, and less than a month after her husband was brutally attacked in their San Francisco home.

Pelosi became speaker in 2007, the first woman to rise to that level of power in Congress. She led the House until Republicans retook the chamber in 2011. With the House Democrats returning to power in 2019, she reassumed the position.

Her skill at drumming up support for milestone legislative efforts elevated the speaker’s role, and helped bring San Francisco to the national stage.

While Republicans have often tried to tar Pelosi as an out-of-touch San Franciscan, she’s never shied away from representing the city. For years, she has proudly wielded a rainbow gavel in the city’s annual Pride Parade, and spoke openly of a need to frequent San Francisco’s Chinatown businesses, even as anti-Asian hate and COVID-19 fears began to swell early in the pandemic.

“I come here quite a bit. We’re a big dim sum family. And, part of our Thanksgiving celebration is always to have dim sum,” she said in February 2020. “So, I feel very at home here.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom touched on her commitment to local issues, in a statement, saying “During her three decades of service in the House, Speaker Pelosi has shaped California and the nation for the better — and generations to come will benefit from her work.”

Despite her larger-than-life career, or perhaps because of it, rumors of Pelosi’s departure from public office have surfaced for years, ebbing and flowing alongside Democrats’ power in Washington. A bevy of San Francisco Democrats have long been floated as potential runners for her congressional seat when she retires, including state Sen. Scott Wiener, former city Supervisor Jane Kim, and Christine Pelosi, the speaker’s daughter.

“As always, Nancy Pelosi moves with grace and strength,” Wiener said in a statement Thursday, shortly after her announcement. “She’s playing an essential role saving our democracy. She’s devoted her life to the people of San Francisco. She’s one of the great leaders in American history. Thank you, Madame Speaker, for your continued service.”

Kim said, “San Francisco is very lucky to have a representative like Speaker Pelosi.  She’s been a tremendous leader since her early days, fighting for much-needed funding for the AIDS crisis here in San Francisco to pushing back against the Trump presidency and fighting for our democracy. I think there are very few people in our country who are as skilled as a tactician and strategist as she is.”

Those whispers of retirement grew considerably louder last month after an attacker, allegedly energized by right-wing conspiracy theories, invaded her Pacific Heights home and bludgeoned her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer, fracturing his skull.

On the House floor, Pelosi only briefly touched on the assault, thanking her colleagues for their support.

“Thank you. We are grateful for all the prayers and well-wishes as he continues his recovery. Thank you so much,” she said.

While her political life blossomed in San Francisco, Pelosi hails from Baltimore. She was raised in a political family: Her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a congressman and served as mayor of Baltimore, as did her brother, Thomas D’Alesandro III.

A devout Catholic, Pelosi brought that spirit of faith and public service to San Francisco when she moved there with her husband in 1969. The couple had four daughters and a son within six years. But even as a young mother, Pelosi carved out time to volunteer for Democratic candidates.

She later became chair of the California Democratic Party and, in that role, lured the Democratic National Convention to San Francisco in 1984. Two years later, she helped Democrats win back the Senate by chairing their national fundraising efforts.

Pelosi went from the periphery of politics to center stage in 1986, when she decided to run for Congress in what became a bruising campaign. In a raucous debate just before that election, Pelosi was branded by some opponents as a lightweight and a wealthy political dilettante.

But she won the seat — one she has held ever since — and quickly established her reputation as a skilled negotiator and tactician.

Pelosi’s years of whipping votes proved vital in pushing major Democratic wins across the finish line, from President Barack Obama’s massive health care overhaul, to an $800 billion stimulus measure during the last great recession, to President Joe Biden’s recent “Build Back Better” bill to repair national infrastructure.

And when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Pelosi became the first line of defense against a leader who tested the guardrails of democracy, calling repeatedly for his impeachment and decrying his abuse of office.

Nancy Pelosi stands on the floor of the House dressed in white, in a long shot showing her colleagues applauding her around her.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks from the House of Representatives floor on Nov. 17, 2022, in Washington, DC. Pelosi spoke on the future of her leadership plans in the House and said she will not seek a leadership role in the upcoming Congress. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

But for Pelosi, at least, giving up her gavel — and all the national responsibility that comes with it — doesn’t mean giving up representing San Francisco.

Just before concluding her address to her colleagues in the House on Thursday, she invoked the city and her faith.

“For those who sent me here, for the people of San Francisco, for entrusting me with the high honor of being their voice in Congress, in this continued work I will strive under the call from our patron saint of our city, Saint Francis: Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”

KQED’s Marisa Lagos and Scott Shafer contributed to this report.



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