Friday, November 18, 2022

Our Most Successful Speaker Steps Down


The most effective and successful Speaker of the House in modern American history, Representative Nancy Pelosi, announced yesterday that she is stepping down as leader of the House Democratic Caucus - to be replaced most likely by 52-year-old Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Pelosi's spectacular successes as Speaker and party leader stand in stark contrast to the pathetic performance of recent Republican Speakers, such as John Boehner and Paul Ryan and the current Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. Analogously, the orderly, generational passing of political power on the Democratic side of the aisle contrasts dramatically with the political and moral chaos on the Republican side.

Pelosi has been the House Democratic leader since 2001. She has served as Speaker twice during this time, as the Democrats twice won and twice lost their congressional majority. During her eight years in the Speaker's Chair, Pelosi became one of the most powerful House Speakers in history, displaying her famously formidable vote-counting skills to pass such landmark legislation as the 2010 Affordable Care Act and then in this most recent Congress the American Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act. She would, therefore, have been a historically significant figure even apart from the bizarre political crises into which our politic has been plunged in recent years. Her historical significance has, however, been much magnified by that crisis.

A tribute to her skill and effectiveness as well as perhaps to some serious Republican misogyny, she has long been a particular object of the right-wing hatred and vilification machine. During the infamous insurrection of January 6 2021, pro-Trump rioters attacking the Capitol in their futile attempt to prevent Congress from counting the electoral votes particularly targeted her and trashed her office. After the Capitol was finally cleared, it was Speaker Pelosi led lawmakers back into the House chamber in order to defiantly do their job, count the votes, and thus definitively establish President Biden’s Electoral College victory. But long before January 6, Pelosi had become perhaps the most visible official the personification of Democratic resistance to the  Trump Administration. Famously, at one of Trump's State of the Union Addresses, at which he boorishly started to speak without waiting for her to introduce him, she visibly tore up his speech. In her own speech in the House yesterday, Pelosi (presumably pointedly) ignored Trump. “I have enjoyed working with three presidents," she said, "achieving historic investments in clean energy with President George Bush; transforming health care reform with President Barack Obama; and forging the future, from infrastructure to health care to climate action, with President Joe Biden.”

An Italian-Catholic mother of five and a grandmother and the inheritor of a Baltimore political tradition, she has represented a golden moment in House leadership, the likes of which we have seldom seen - and certainly will not see anything at all alike in the sad and sorry circus set to start on January 3.

Photo: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

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