Regardless of whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi loses the gavel as Democrats wait on pins and needles to see if they retain a majority in the House of Representatives, the sharks are circling in San Francisco.
Pelosi’s potential departure has been the subject of whispers for the better part of her current two-year term, and even though it looks like the “Red Wave” was overstated, those conversations have been taking place out loud and in the open since the near-fatal attack on her husband in their Pacific Heights home.
Despite a packed local ballot in Tuesday’s election, chatter about the national elections rippled through an Election Day party hosted by former Mayor Willie Brown. Many seemed to think the end is nigh for Pelosi, and despite a commanding victory in Tuesday’s election, the speaker herself seemed to hint that she may have one foot out the door during a CNN interview that aired earlier this week.
“When someone is assaulted in your family […], members have to weigh that among the equities as to whether they will run,” Pelosi said.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, who is widely expected to run for Pelosi’s seat, demurely deflected a question on the subject Tuesday.
“I hope she doesn’t bow out, because we need her,” Wiener said. “I love being in the Senate.”
Across the room, Jane Kim—Wiener’s onetime foe for the state Senate seat—was overheard telling partygoers that she’s interested in exploring a path to Pelosi’s seat. Kim, a former city supervisor and now a director of the progressive Working Families Party, lost to Wiener in a close and bitterly fought race for state Senate in 2016.
“I’m definitely thinking about it,” Kim later told The Standard at El Rio. “It depends on timing. Pelosi is tenacious and she doesn’t resign in a loss. She wants to leave strong. I see her fighting even harder.”
But the path to succeeding Pelosi may have an actual succession plan that keeps the seat in the family.
Christine Pelosi, a Democratic strategist and organizer who also happens to be the speaker’s daughter, started making the rounds this summer to secure support from big donors for her own bid for Congress, according to a source.
In San Francisco, an open seat in Congress could turn into a scrum for the ages as local politicos jockey for the high-profile and potentially long-term gig. Nancy Pelosi was just reelected to her 19th term representing the city in Congress with more than 80% of the vote.
“Everyone with a pulse” will throw their hat in the ring to replace her, a source said.
Changing of the Guard
Any future Congressperson from San Francisco would have enormous shoes to fill.
First elected in 1987, Nancy Pelosi rose through the ranks to become the most powerful San Francisco politician in history, sitting second in line to the presidency and controlling a sprawling Democratic caucus over four terms as House Speaker.
Pelosi’s organizing and fundraising prowess helped steer transformative bills through Congress like the Affordable Care Act and, more recently, the Inflation Reduction Act. Term after term, San Franciscans rewarded her with overwhelming reelection margins.
“She’s a lion of the Congress, and has been around for a long time,” said Christian Grose, a professor of political science at University of Southern California. “[Her departure] is going to create a bit of a vacuum in leadership.”
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents California’s 23rd Congressional District, is widely expected to assume the House speakership in January 2023 if Republicans take control of the chamber. The two California representatives are polar opposites politically, with Trump-friendly McCarthy telling CNN that he’ll prioritize “controlling the border” and oversight investigations into the origins of the Covid pandemic, amongst other issues.
Pelosi’s retirement, which would set off a special election next year, would also leave a major void in the Democratic Party with no clear successor. And after Pelosi’s exit, it may be a very long time before another San Franciscan rises to House speaker.
“Her main lieutenants, the democratic whip and leader, are also older like her,” Grose said. “But Pelosi will have a hand in choosing and possibly anointing who becomes the next leader and next speaker.”