Nancy Pelosi’s inaugural address on Thursday captured the essence of her career.
The speaker of the outgoing house was, as always, impeccable. She wore white, the color of the suffragette movement, of which Pelosi was a successor and tremendous champion.
She dutifully read from prepared notes filled with the typical reminders and idioms — a reference to the “Star Spangled Banner,” an address to the Capitol and the moonlit dome at night — that often frustrate her uninspiring speeches.
Above all, she was bright and unemotional. Her voice trembled only briefly as Pelosi mentioned her husband, Paul, who is still recovering from an attack by an assailant who broke into the couple’s San Francisco home in a fit of hate and political revenge.
Pelosi’s great strength has never been a speaker. Rather, it’s the skills she brought to speakers: tremendous political savvy, a grasp of the legislative process, a lack of blind ideology, and — not least — the ability to count votes, read a room, and know when it was time to call. the vote and time to move on.
Pelosi had promised four years ago, when her grip on the Democratic caucus was shaky under pressure from ambitious younger members, that she would serve no more than two more terms.
That time runs out in January, and Democrats’ much-better-than-expected showing in last week’s midterm elections gave her a graceful way to keep her word. She knew her departure was expected — though she said her phone had been “blowing up” in recent days with requests to stay on as Democratic leader — and now she can take her leave and do so under no dark clouds.
Her decision to stay in Congress and fall back into the ranks of Democrats came as a surprise, although Pelosi – the first female speaker in history and one of the most prolific to wield the lever – will clearly be no typical backbencher.
President Biden and Pelosi’s counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, expressed their desire for her to stay on, and she will undoubtedly be available for advice to the two and whoever takes her place as head of the Democratic caucus. For her part, Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she had no intention of meddling or suggesting otherwise.
(Cleverly to the end, it didn’t seem like a coincidence that Pelosi’s announcement coincided with — and significantly overshadowed — the Republicans’ first day as a standby majority, overshadowing the announcement that the new GOP majority would launch an investigation into Biden and his family’s business dealings. .)
“If you’ve known Nancy Pelosi like I have going back to when she was, as she said, just a housewife, this is exactly what you would expect,” said Art Agnos, a former San Francisco mayor and friend of Pelosi’s. family. “She carries herself with grace and dignity while promising to be there and available if she can help anyone.”
If there’s disappointment — and no one dares say it out loud — it’s among politicians in San Francisco, who have been quietly waiting for the day Pelosi would stand aside. It is not a function of disrespect; On the contrary, Pelosi is a beloved and admired institution in the city she has represented in Congress for well over three decades.
Rather, it’s the fact that Pelosi has been in office so long and generations of would-be successors have aged and retired from public life, their hopes dashed during her tenure.
Anyone eyeing the congressional seat — the only one San Francisco has to offer — will have to wait at least two more years. Pelosi was re-elected to an 18th term last week with an 84% approval rating. While it’s hard to imagine, it’s not impossible to see Pelosi running again in 2024, at age 84, and being invited to a 19th term.
Four years ago, Pelosi sipped an espresso at a downtown Miami bistro and indulged in a rare discussion about her political future. She is highly allergic to the subject, an aversion shared by congressional staffers and others close to the speaker.
But on this sunny day, as she campaigned in the midterm elections that would put Democrats in power and return Pelosi to the floor, she was unusually open to the debate.
“I see myself as an interim person,” Pelosi said in an interview, expressing characteristic confidence about winning and regaining the hammer ban. “I have a lot to do. Books for writing; places to go; grandchildren, first of all to love.”
Pelosi named those grandchildren Thursday in proud guise as she spoke from the House floor. But they must wait for her undivided attention. So also any books she might want to write.
Pelosi is not done in Congress.