House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi walked a fine line Monday when asked about her future as the top leader of House Democrats, refusing to put an expiration date on her tenure days after calling herself a “transitional figure” who might hand over power after a short second stint as speaker.
Pelosi was asked about those “transitional” comments made last week to the Los Angeles Times during a CNN-hosted event in New York on Monday. She suggested that she would serve at least through the 2020 elections.
“There has to be a transition at some point in all of this,” she said Monday, adding: “I’m not going to make myself a lame duck.”
The remarks come as Democratic candidates across the country continue to be blitzed with Republican attack ads featuring Pelosi as a symbol of liberal overreach in swing and Republican-leaning congressional districts. That has prompted dozens of candidates to put some distance between themselves and Pelosi; some have said outright that they won’t vote to make her speaker again.
Those dynamics are playing out as younger Democrats inside the House have been moving to open up opportunities for a new generation of party leaders. Some have openly tried to unseat Pelosi, 78; others have called for a clear plan to open up the leadership table to younger members. But Pelosi, after 16 years leading Democrats in the House, retains strong support inside the caucus that she has built through years of legislative victories and campaign fundraising.
Should Democrats win back the House majority from Republicans, the idea of a “transitional” speaker could hold appeal for newly elected lawmakers who spent their campaigns calling for new party leadership but who want to avoid a messy shake-up that could set back the party’s governing plans.
Rep. James Clyburn, S.C., the No. 3 Democratic leader in the House, also has floated the idea of having a transitional leader – but only if Pelosi is unable to secure support to return as speaker.
As she has said during several recent public appearances, Pelosi expressed confidence that she would be able to retake the speaker’s gavel if the Democrats win a majority.
“It’s up to them to make that decision,” she said of her colleagues, “but I feel pretty comfortable.”
“I think that I have a special understanding, institutional memory, knowledge of the substance, knowledge of the legislative process that holds me in good stead for now,” she added, before hinting that her service beyond the next term would depend on what voters do in 2020. “We will see what happens in the presidential [election] coming up.”
At another point, Pelosi said that she is routinely asked whether she will run for president but that she does not plan to do so. Instead, Pelosi said, she has encouraged outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown, 80, to run.