What Will Nancy Do?
It’s the question being asked by everyone in San Francisco and national politics, but only one person can answer it. Republicans on Wednesday officially regained control of the House of Representatives, ending Nancy Pelosi’s run as House speaker—the most powerful position in Congress. A decision on her future could come as soon as Thursday, as the Speaker's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted that she would be meeting with colleagues “to address her future plans.”
Pelosi cruised to reelection and a 19th term last week, but many political insiders believe she will hang it up after seeing the gavel go to the GOP. She has acknowledged that the home invasion and attack on her husband, Paul, a little more than a week before the election is a key consideration in her decision, as he faces a long road to recovery. But she’s also said she has no plans to retire, so what’s next for her is anyone’s guess.
Below is a breakdown of how things could play out.
Well, California might still have a representative serving as Speaker of the House—but he’s basically the polar opposite of Nancy Pelosi.
The likely next-man-up is Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader since 2019, who represents Bakersfield. His policy proposals have often fallen in line with Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Agenda,” and he garnered headlines for crafting a “Commitment to America” plan that was devoid of substantive policy proposals.
In a statement issued Wednesday, President Biden congratulated “Leader McCarthy” and said he is “ready to work with House Republicans to deliver results for working families.”
The GOP at large has been under the thumb of Trump going back to 2016, and his announcement Tuesday that he's running for president again in 2024 will not have a soothing effect on McCarthy or any other potential House speaker.
Trump has reportedly been telling Republican Party officials to back McCarthy for speaker, which makes sense. McCarthy can tread the moderate GOP line like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and speak to the old guard to get them to come on board (along with their wallets).
So, the answer is yes. California will probably still have a speaker in the House. It will not be Nancy Pelosi. And it will be somebody who is making decisions loosely predicated upon the whims of Trump.
However, a divided Congress means the House is not going to be able to get a whole lot done.
The current count of contenders to replace Nancy Pelosi in the House of Representatives stands at three for the moment, but the race could get much more crowded.
The likely field includes state Sen. Scott Wiener, former San Francisco supervisor and head of the Working Families Party Jane Kim, and Pelosi's daughter, Christine Pelosi, a party strategist who has elite political ties thanks to her mother's long service in Congress.
Trying to figure out who would win out of these three is difficult for a variety of reasons. Wiener has a half-million dollars stashed in his state Senate account and obvious connections to big-time fundraising thanks to his time in the Legislature, where he is one of the most active policymakers, particularly when it comes to housing and LGBTQ+ rights.
Kim, who’s the only candidate to publicly declare her interest in Nancy’s seat so far, obviously has her own strong ties to the city after running for mayor and state Senate. Given that she lost both of those races, she’s not exactly riding a wave of momentum. Kim could lean on the city’s powerful Asian American bloc of voters, and she also has strong ties with progressives. This could help her quite a bit considering there is a likelihood that Wiener and Christine Pelosi would split the more moderate camp of voters.
Christine Pelosi is really the wildcard here: She has no experience as an elected representative, and the nepotism aspect could turn off a lot of people. But she also is a recognizable name. And while Nancy Pelosi is not beloved in red states and even amongst some progressives here in San Francisco, she is a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party.
The New York Times is reporting that Nancy Pelosi could retain her seat for some portion of her term and serve as a consigliere to other members of the House—as well as help them raise money. But more than likely, Pelosi will bow out at some point in this next term. She will be feted as an unparalleled stateswoman who served the Democratic Party well and showed fidelity to its core principles.
In a statement following Wednesday's results, Pelosi noted her appreciation for other members who are departing Congress.
“We salute our departing Members for their magnificent leadership, achieving landmark progress on health care, climate action, infrastructure, gun violence, veterans and more that can never be diminished,” she said.
Whoever represents San Francisco next won't be a bit actor, even if they’re a junior member of the House. Ro Khanna (D-San Jose) has proven that an ambitious new legislator can quickly raise their profile if they make TV appearances, consistently square off with Republicans on social media and tap into the Bay Area’s substantial fundraising base.
Although San Francisco is unlikely to have another person serve as speaker anytime soon, the next to represent California’s 12th congressional district will wield influence in other ways, from living up to the city’s liberal reputation and leading on forward-thinking policies for equal rights and climate change to carrying the cachet of having the ear of Big Tech.
The city's next representative can quickly become a leading voice in the party, if for no other reason than San Francisco (aka Silicon Valley) can rally the dollars for candidates across the country. Whoever is the member for San Francisco will control this pipeline.
Josh Koehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org