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Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she'll end her run as the top House Democrat

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Presidents have come and gone in recent times, and Nancy Pelosi has remained.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

She became speaker of the House during the administration of President George W. Bush. She guided the Affordable Care Act to passage in Barack Obama's time. She lost the gavel, then led her party back to the majority under Donald Trump and kept the majority under Joe Biden until now.

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NANCY PELOSI: A new day is dawning on the horizon. And I look forward, always forward, to the unfolding story of our nation, a story of light and love, of patriotism and progress, of many becoming one.

INSKEEP: Republicans often demonized Pelosi. And last October, a man broke into her home and attacked her husband. But some Republicans saluted Pelosi as she announced her departure yesterday. Now, the question is, who will lead the Democrats?

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is here this morning. Good morning, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK. So Nancy Pelosi stepping down from leadership in the party at 82 years old. We just heard her say a new dawn is on the horizon. Is this about opening the door for younger leadership?

GRISALES: Yes. Before she announced the plan, she quoted a common biblical refrain. "For everything, there is a season."

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PELOSI: For me, the hours come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect. And I'm grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.

GRISALES: And this marks the culmination of a deal Pelosi struck with her caucus nearly four years ago to step down. Of course, this comes after Republicans reached the threshold to flip the House next year.

FADEL: OK. So before we get to the next generation of leadership, this marks the end of a historic chapter in Congress. What kind of legacy does Pelosi leave?

GRISALES: Right. She became first speaker in 2007. That was the first time she entered that role. And she remained Democratic leader after her party lost the House in 2011 and regained the speakership back when they won it - control of the chamber again in 2019. And in remarks to her colleagues, she recalled a story of when her father was serving in Congress, and she saw the Capitol for the first time as a 6-year-old.

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PELOSI: I was riding in the car with my brothers. And they were thrilled and jumping up and down and saying to me, Nancy, Nancy, look. There's the Capitol. And I keep - every time, I'd say, I don't see any capital. Is it a capital A, a capital B or a capital C?

GRISALES: And she said she believed then, as she does now, that it was the most beautiful building in the world because of what it represented, a temple of democracy, of the Constitution and, quote, "our highest ideals." She was first elected to Congress to represent her San Francisco district in 1987 and moved into a leadership role as Democratic whip in 2002. Over time, she built a reputation as a master legislator and a master strategist pushing through landmark legislation.

FADEL: Now, she's not the only one in leadership stepping down. What does this mean for the next generation? Who assumes leadership role now - roles now in the next Congress?

GRISALES: Right. So following her announcement, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip Jim Clyburn said they would also follow suit and step down. So now a new generation of leaders are lining up. That includes New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries as the front-runner to replace Pelosi as Democratic leader. And if so, he would become the first African American lawmaker to lead the party in Congress.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.