WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats nominated Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to be the speaker who guides them again next year as Joe Biden becomes president, and she quickly seemed to suggest these would be her final two years in the leadership post.
The California Democrat, the first woman to be speaker, was nominated by acclamation as the party's lawmakers used a pandemic-induced virtual meeting to pick their leaders. Pelosi has already served six years in the job, but the next two loom as her toughest.
After unexpectedly losing at least 10 incumbents in this month's elections, Democrats will have about a 222-213 majority, the tightest margin in two decades. That prospect has demoralized many Democrats and ignited blame-trading between moderates and progressives over why they flopped on Election Day.
In addition, Biden and Congress will confront an uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic, a virus-stifled economy and divisions among voters. And there's anxiety already among Democrats looking ahead to 2022 and the midterm elections, which historically are punishing for the party that controls the White House.
Many House Democrats have for years insisted it's time for fresh leadership. Pelosi and her top two lieutenants, Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, and Jim Clyburn, of South Carolina, have served in their positions together for more than a dozen years and each is 80 or older.
Pelosi called for unity when she addressed her colleagues Wednesday after winning the nomination.
"The theme, I think, of what we do next has to be about justice" in the economy, health care and policing, she said, according to a transcript released by her office.
When a reporter asked Pelosi later whether the next two years would be her last as speaker, it was little surprise that she mentioned a commitment she made in 2018. Scrambling to win enough votes to become speaker, she said then that she would agree to limit her term to four more years.
"I can't wait to be working with Joe Biden and preparing us for our transition into the future," she said Wednesday. "So I don't want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement."
Biden's office said the president-elect called Pelosi to congratulate her selection and spoke of working together "on a shared agenda to get COVID-19 under control and build our economy back better."
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All House members will pick the speaker when the new Congress convenes in early January. Hoyer was re-elected majority leader and Clyburn as the No. 3 Democratic leader Wednesday, party posts that need no House approval. Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn all won without opposition.
To become speaker again, Pelosi will need more votes than House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who's likely to garner nearly unanimous GOP support. That means Pelosi will need roughly 218 votes to prevail and can ill afford to lose more than a sprinkling of Democratic support.
Though she's likely to succeed, it won't be simple because when Pelosi was elected speaker in January 2019, 15 Democrats opposed her. Ten remain in Congress plus New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi, whose race remains uncalled, and New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who became a Republican.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who has opposed Pelosi before, said he is open to backing her this time, adding he thinks "she gets it" about needing to moderate the Democrats' brand.
"Frankly, there's a time to move on," he said in an interview Wednesday. He cited Democrats' retaining House control and winning the White House and said, "Nancy knows it's smart to quit at the top of her game."
There will also be at least 15 first-term Democrats in the freshmen next year, and it was unclear how many will support Pelosi. Hinting she won't try leading Democrats again in 2022 may help her nail down the votes she needs.
One favorite to succeed her is New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 50, a four-term Brooklyn lawmaker. His skills range from consensus building to launching stinging oratorical salvos at Trump, who he this week called the "hater in chief."
Other Democrats eager to move up in leadership ranks include Reps. Katherine Clark, of Massachusetts, David Cicilline, of Rhode Island, and Tony Cardenas, of California. Jeffries and Clark were elected to top leadership posts on Wednesday, with Clark defeating Cicilline for the No. 4 job.