What happens to Nancy Pelosi if Democrats lose the House?

Nearly a week after voters cast ballots, control of the lower chamber of Congress remains up in the air

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 13 November 2022 22:02 GMT
Nancy Pelosi says Republicans' reaction to attack on her husband was 'disgraceful'

Nancy Pelosi is staring at an uncertain political future.

Nearly a week after her party pulled off a strong showing in the midterm elections that shocked DC pundits and conservatives especially, the Democrats are now poised to expand their majority in the US Senate after securing its future with wins in Nevada and Arizona.

But control of the US House of Representatives remains unclear, with a handful of races in California and other western states remaining uncalled as of the Sunday following the election. Eleven contests in total remain uncalled; Democrats need eight more victories to keep a majority. It’s an uphill battle for sure, but not an impossible one given the party’s performance so far.

That leaves the Speaker of the House wondering which role she will find herself in, come January when the new Congress is sworn into office. Should her party prevail, she’s likely a shoe-in to win the gavel once more, despite calls from some younger members in the party for a new generation to take the reins. If the Republicans win even a one-seat majority, however, she will lose the title as her party joins the minority, and that very-real prospect is what leaves her fate unclear.

Ms Pelosi herself has been tight-lipped about the situation, and speaking with CNN in an interview broadcast on Sunday she held her focus on the elections at hand.

“And I’m not asking anyone for anything. My members are asking me to consider doing that. But, again, let’s just get through the election,” she said.

“[M]y decision will again be rooted in the wishes of my family and the wishes of my caucus. But none of it will be very much considered until we see what the outcome of all of this is,” added the speaker.

There are several possibilities for what could happen come January, if Ms Pelosi and the Democrats find themselves once again out of power. Ms Pelosi herself is no stranger to that position — she most recently held the position of House Minority Leader in 2018, before her party took back both the House and Senate in a midterm rout of the GOP.

One possibility, of course, is resignation — that’s the path the last speaker to be forced from power, Paul Ryan, took in 2019 when Ms Pelosi reclaimed the gavel. Mr Ryan, at the time, faced a contentious relationship with a president in his own party, Donald Trump, and had previously run for and lost the vice presidency himself. The Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Marianna Sotomayor seemed to imply that such a path was a possibility for Ms Pelosi in an article penned last week, given the recent violent assault of her husband in their a home by an intruder suspected to have been motivated by political conspiracy theories.

“Others wonder if the attack provides the personal pull for Pelosi to finally leave Congress and return home to help her husband of nearly 60 years through his ‘long recovery,’ as she has called it,” the Post’s writers opined. “Still, others suggest Pelosi probably made her decision months ago, pointing to capstone moments such as the speaker’s official visit to Taiwan in the face of sharp criticism from Beijing and the U.S. State Department — the type of journey one takes if they know they are leaving the stage.”

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Another possibilty is that Ms Pelosi retakes her old role of House Minority Leader. That’s the outcome that occurred in 2011, when Democrats lost the House to the GOP and Ms Pelosi surrendered the gavel to Mr Ryan. There would likely be little resistance to her staying on as leader; no member of the Democratic House caucus has mentioned an intent to run against her in leadership elections, and Ms Pelosi herself has noted that members are already lobbying her to stay on.

Still other possibilities include staying in the House in lesser leadership roles, such as a potential stint as chair of the House Democratic caucus. Ms Pelosi herself hinted that she could take on another role in the CNN interview, explaining, “there are all kinds of ways to exert influence” in the House.

Lastly, she could follow the lonely path of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former DNC chair reviled by progressives for a not-so-secret favoritism towards Hillary Clinton’s campaign that the party displayed in 2016 when Bernie Sanders ran for president. Ms Wasserman Schultz, upon leaving her role as leader of the party, decided to continue serving in the House and returned to relative obscurity as a quiet rank-and-filer who rarely attracts media attention.

There are many roles Ms Pelosi could fill in January. But nothing will be certain until those last House races conclude, bringing an end to the question of how deep was the failure of Republicans to challenge her leadership.

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