WASHINGTON — Rep. Nancy Pelosi promised on Wednesday to step aside no later than 2022 as party leader in a deal with Democratic rebels, clearing a major obstacle in her bid to be House speaker.
The announcement followed weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Pelosi, D-Calif., and the group of insurgents who wanted to force new blood into the top Democratic ranks. In the end, Pelosi backed off her resistance to setting a date for her departure but avoided becoming an immediate lame duck.
“Over the summer, 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 said in a statement.
Under the accord, Pelosi, 78, will support a three-term limit for the top three House Democratic leaders, with a possible fourth term if Democratic members vote by a two-thirds majority to retain them.
The limit would be retroactive, meaning Pelosi, incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and incoming House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. — all of whom held the same posts from 2007 to 2011 — would be effectively limited to one, maybe two, terms going forward if the policy is adopted.
“I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,” Pelosi said.
At least six Democratic holdouts are expected to back Pelosi following the announcement. Their support likely would be enough to clinch the House majority that Pelosi needs for her election to speaker on Jan. 3 — 218 votes if all members are present and voting for an individual.
According to a Washington Post analysis, that would leave Pelosi with no more 16 Democrats openly opposing her. She could weather as many as 17 defections if all members are voting.
Several freshmen and a handful of incumbents are still expected to oppose her.
Already the first woman to serve as speaker, Pelosi would cement her place in history by joining a small group of lawmakers who regained the speakership after losing it. She would be the first speaker to do so since Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn took the gavel back in 1955. No other two-time speaker has taken the gavel back after more than four years out of power.
Pelosi appeared to solidify her standing Tuesday during an Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump. For 17 televised minutes, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sparred with Trump over his desire for U.S.-Mexico border wall funding — a clash that highlighted the stakes of the speakership race.
One person familiar with the talks said the incumbents — running in safe Democratic districts — want to “give cover” to freshmen in more marginal districts who want to stick to pledges they made during their campaigns and vote against Pelosi without actually blocking her from the gavel.
Pelosi was nominated as speaker by House Democrats last month on a 203-to-32 vote, but many of the Democrats vowed to oppose her in the decisive floor vote if she did not make further concessions, prompting the negotiations.
The term-limit proposal is subject to a vote of House Democrats next year — one that could very well become contentious, with Hoyer and Clyburn expected to oppose it — but Pelosi has agreed to abide by the limit regardless.
Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that he was not for term limits of any sort, dismissing Pelosi’s discussions: “She’s not negotiating for me.”
“I have a term limit — it’s a two-year term limit,” he said, referring to the length of a House term. “I am not for term limits. I am for the intellect of the voter, whether it’s my constituency or my colleague being able to operate without such constraint and choose who they want when they want.”
Clyburn said Wednesday that Pelosi had not consulted him about the proposal but said he had “no concerns” the deal might affect him.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a close friend of Clyburn’s and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he thought the term limit was immaterial.
“If he’s here another six years, I would doubt that he’s going to be in the same position,” he said, suggesting Clyburn might move up to a more senior post with a new term limit.
“I think what it is is a moral victory for some people trying to figure out how to land their plane,” Richmond added. “You can land it, you can get shot down or you can run out of gas. Might as well land it.”
No Democrat has announced a challenge to Pelosi; her critics envisioned a scenario where they would deny Pelosi the votes needed on the House floor, touching off a scramble for an alternative.
The terms of the deal were hashed out Tuesday afternoon just hours after Pelosi left the White House.
Three Pelosi opponents attended the meeting in her office — Democratic Reps. Bill Foster of Illinois, Ed Perlmutter of Colorado and Linda Sánchez of California — and discussed the terms, according to three people familiar with the talks.
The term limits would not extend to committee chairmen, a proposal that has been deeply controversial among House Democrats.
In addition to the term-limits proposal, Pelosi agreed not to retaliate against members who voted against her and to set up a “leadership development program” open to members who are interested in joining the caucus’s top ranks.
Besides the three members who attended the meeting with Pelosi, Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Filemon Vela, D-Texas, have tentatively agreed to back Pelosi if the deal is finalized.
Some other incumbents critical of Pelosi, including Reps. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., have indicated they will oppose Pelosi regardless.