The agreement, which if adopted by Democrats will almost certainly clear the way for Pelosi to reclaim the mantle of the first woman to serve in the post that is second in line to the presidency.
Written by Julie Hirschfeld Davis
Rep. Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday that she had reached a deal with dissident Democrats to limit herself to four years as speaker, her most consequential move to date to put down a rebellion in her ranks and clinch the votes she needs to be elected to the post in January.
The agreement, which if adopted by Democrats would also bind the party’s other two top leaders, almost certainly clears the way for Pelosi, the Democratic leader from California, to reclaim the mantle of the first woman to serve in the post that is second in line to the presidency.
The plan she publicly embraced Wednesday amounted to the ultimate power move of a master tactician who has spent the past several weeks courting and wearing down skeptics in her ranks. She has traded committee assignments, attention to lawmakers’ pet issues and ultimately a pledge to surrender the speakership before her 83rd birthday in exchange for commitments to vote for her.
It came the day after she publicly took on President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in a spectacle that showcased her negotiating prowess and confirmed her status as one of the most dominant players in a divided Washington.
The compromise would bind Pelosi to a four-term limit — eight years — that would apply retroactively, taking into account the two terms she already served as speaker.
In addition to securing Pelosi’s post, it could also signal a major shift for Democrats. Despite the striking diversity and demographic shifts within their party, they have been governed for more than a decade by the same three legislators.
The three — Pelosi, 78; Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, 79; and Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, 78 — are now facing calls to cede power to a new generation even as the party moves to take the House majority next month.
Democrats remain deeply split on the question of term limits, and it is not clear that they are prepared to endorse the move when the party meets next year to determine its rules. But in a statement released Wednesday evening, Pelosi made clear that she would submit to the term limits regardless of whether her party supported it.
“I am comfortable with the proposal,” she said, “and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not.”
In setting a clock on her own time in power, Pelosi alluded to her declaration this year that she saw herself as a “transitional figure” in the Democratic Party. She said that she was committed to paving the way for younger Democrats to assume positions of influence.
“Over the summer,” she said, “I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic caucus.”
Pelosi handily won an internal vote among Democrats last month to be nominated speaker, a post she held from 2007 to 2011. But a small group of defectors who have agitated for new leadership in the party have threatened to withhold their votes when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3 for a formal vote on the House floor. Pelosi would need a majority of those present and voting in the chamber — as many as 218 — to be elected.
The rebels demanded that Pelosi either step aside or give a date when she would do so, something she had refused to do, arguing that it would weaken her hand as a bulwark against Trump.
In the days since Pelosi’s nomination, Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, a member of the rebel group, spearheaded discussions with the leader and other colleagues about a compromise. The talks came to a head late Tuesday in Pelosi’s office at the Capitol after she returned from the explosive meeting with Trump, who had sought to undercut her by alluding to her troubles corralling the votes to become speaker.
After Pelosi’s announcement Wednesday evening, Perlmutter and several other holdouts — Gil Cisneros of California, Bill Foster of Illinois, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Tim Ryan of Ohio, Linda T. Sánchez of California and Filemon Vela of Texas — released a joint statement thanking Pelosi and saying they would back her for speaker.
“We are proud that our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders,” their statement said.
In a separate statement, Moulton, who had angered many of his colleagues with a relentless campaign to block Pelosi’s seemingly inevitable ascent, said, “These conversations have been difficult, but we’re stronger because of them.”
“The leaders of our caucus will no longer be determined by tenure and loyalty but by frequent and open elections, giving us a better chance to change and evolve as the country does,” Moulton added. “They will also incentivize those in power to build our bench, something our party has struggled with for years. That’s progress.”
Still, Pelosi’s promise did not go far enough for some Democrats who said the idea of Pelosi, who has been the top Democrat for more than 15 years, agreeing to limit herself to another four was not the kind of change they were seeking.
“I can’t support a deal that would maintain the current leadership structure for another four years,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York. “That’s not my idea of a transition. I took on this fight because I wanted to see change, not more of the same.”
If adopted by the House Democratic caucus, the leadership term limits would also apply to the other two top Democratic leaders: Hoyer, who is in line to be the majority leader, and Clyburn, who is set to be the whip.
Under the compromise to which Pelosi has committed, she and the two other leaders would be limited to three two-year terms, with the possibility of a fourth if they could garner the support of two-thirds of the Democratic caucus. Given that Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn have already served two terms in the top three posts, it would put a hard cap on their tenures, forcing them out by 2022.
It is not clear whether the Democratic caucus will embrace the changes Pelosi has agreed to. At least one influential player, Hoyer, has flatly said he is against the idea and told reporters Tuesday, “She’s not negotiating for me.” Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have long been vehemently opposed to term limits, which they view as eroding their influence built up over many years.
But Pelosi’s pledge appeared to be enough to win her the support of Democrats who had threatened to defect when the new Congress convenes.
“I have pushed for new leadership because I want to see generational change in the Democratic caucus,” Perlmutter said in his own statement in which he pledged to support Pelosi. “I am now convinced that generational change has started and will continue to accelerate.”
Pelosi’s allies insisted Wednesday that she had not struck the term-limit deal out of necessity, but to secure the largest possible vote in January to promote unity among Democrats.
But the agreement was the culmination of a weekslong frenzy of behind-the-scenes bargaining and vote-counting that has served as something of a preview of what it will be like for Pelosi as speaker of the new Democratic majority — a fractious, diverse and ideologically diffuse group that includes some newcomers who campaigned saying they would not support her.
The haggling has turned off some Democrats who grouse privately that it has distracted from the vital task of plotting a winning agenda for the next Congress and an effective plan for taking on Trump. Pelosi’s allies are concerned that she has accepted a proposal that will undercut her going into a tumultuous two years of battling the president and Senate Republicans.
“I understand that we want new blood, but there are ways of doing it without term-limiting people,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York said Wednesday, before the deal was announced. “And I don’t think that Nancy or anybody else should say when they intend to leave because then they’re immediately a lame duck.”
Other Democrats argued that the process, while painstaking, was healthy.
“There is a view that at some point we have to get through these housekeeping issues so that we can begin the process of governing,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming caucus chairman, who declined to weigh in on the idea of term limits for leaders because he would preside over the debate on changing the rules. “But everyone understands that part of transitioning from the minority to the majority will involve redefining the rules that govern our caucus and the House.”
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