The not-farewell address Nancy Pelosi delivered Thursday captured the quintessence of her history-making profession.
The departing House speaker was, as ever, immaculately turned out. She wore white, the colour of the suffragette movement, of which Pelosi was a legatee and massive champion.
She read, dutifully, from prepared remarks that were full of the standard exhortations and platitudes — a reference to the “Star Spangled Banner,” a paean to the Capitol and its moon-glow dome at night — that pepper her often-uninspiring speeches.
Above all, she was clear-eyed and unsentimental. Her voice only briefly quavered when Pelosi mentioned her husband, Paul, who continues to be recovering from an attack by a hammer-wielding assailant who invaded the couple’s San Francisco home on a mission of hatred and political vengeance.
Pelosi’s great strength has never been that of a public speaker. Moderately, it’s the talents she delivered to the speakership: tremendous political savvy, a mastery of the legislative process, an absence of blind ideology and — not least — the flexibility to count votes, read a room and know when it was time to call the vote, and time to maneuver on.
Pelosi had given her word, 4 years ago when her hold over the Democratic caucus was shaky under pressure from ambitious younger members, that she would serve not more than two additional terms within the speakership.
That point runs out in January and Democrats’ far-better-than-expected showing in last week’s midterm election gave her a graceful approach to keep her word. She knew her departure was being anticipated — though she said her phone was “exploding” in recent days with pleas to stay as Democratic leader — and now she will take her leave and accomplish that beneath no dark cloud.
Her decision to remain in Congress, falling back into the ranks of Democratic members, was a surprise, though Pelosi — the primary female speaker in history and probably the most achieved ever to wield the gavel — will clearly be no typical back-bencher.
President Biden and Pelosi’s counterpart within the Senate, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, made clear their desire she stay on, and she’s going to doubtless be available for counsel to those two and whoever takes her place as head of the Democratic caucus. For her part, Pelosi told reporters Thursday she had no intention to meddle or second guess.
(Shrewd to the last, it seemed no accident that Pelosi’s announcement coincided with — and vastly overshadowed — Republicans’ first day because the majority-in-waiting and obscured the announcement the brand new GOP majority would launch a probe into Biden and his family’s business dealings.)
“In case you’ve known Nancy Pelosi as I even have going back to when, as she said, she just was a housewife, this is strictly what you’d expect,” said Art Agnos, a former San Francisco mayor and friend of the Pelosi family. “She’s leaving with grace and dignity while promising to be around and available if she might be of help to anyone.”
If there’s disappointment — and none dares speak it aloud — it’s among the many ranks of San Francisco politicians, who’ve quietly waited for the day Pelosi would stand aside. It will not be a function of disrespect; on the contrary, Pelosi is a beloved and deeply admired institution in town she has represented in Congress for well over three many years.
Moderately, it’s the actual fact Pelosi has been in office so long and generations of would-be successors have aged out and retired from public life, their hopes aborning as her tenure endures.
Anyone eyeing the congressional seat — the one San Francisco has to supply — could have to attend a minimum of one other two years. Pelosi was just reelected for the 18th time last week with 84% support. Even though it’s hard to assume, it’s not not possible to see Pelosi running again in 2024, at age 84, and handily being ushered right into a nineteenth term.
4 years ago, sipping espresso at a bistro in downtown Miami, Pelosi indulged in a rare discussion of her political future. She is strongly allergic to the topic, an aversion that’s shared amongst her congressional staff and others near the speaker.
But on that sunny day, while campaigning in a midterm election that may return Democrats to power and restore Pelosi to the speakership, she was unusually open to the discussion.
“I see myself as a transitional figure,” Pelosi said in an interview, through which she expressed characteristic confidence of victory and reclaiming the speaker’s gavel. “I even have things to do. Books to jot down; places to go; grandchildren, at the beginning, to like.”
Pelosi named those grandchildren Thursday in a proud reverie as she spoke from the well of the House. But they’ll should wait for her undivided attention. So, too, any books she may need to jot down.
Pelosi will not be finished in Congress.