Pelosi agrees to term limits for House leaders, likely securing the votes she needs to regain the speakership

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) struck a deal Wednesday with a group of Democratic dissidents to limit the term of her future House speakership to two or possibly four years in exchange for their support for her to return to the post in January.

The deal all but ensures the San Francisco Democrat will secure the votes she needs to regain the gavel.

Under the deal, term limits will be imposed for top House Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.


Leaders would be allowed to serve up to three two-year terms and a fourth only if they received support from a supermajority of their caucus.

The limit applies retroactively, meaning Pelosi would be able to serve as speaker until 2021 and possibly until 2023, if she received the overwhelming support of the caucus.

She previously served two terms as speaker from 2007 to 2011.

The term limits would have to be agreed to by a majority of House Democrats in a vote in February. Pelosi said she would abide by it “whether it passes or not.”

A source close to Pelosi said she didn’t need the deal to obtain the speakership but wanted to secure the biggest vote and have as much unity as possible.

Seven rebel Democrats including Rep. Linda T. Sanchez of Whittier said they would support Pelosi because of the agreement.

The term limits would mark a dramatic change for House Democrats, who traditionally have allowed members to hold leadership slots as long as they can get reelected among their peers. That has generated frustration among younger members who feel they can’t rise in the ranks.


House Republicans, by contrast, have term limits on their committee posts, but not on leaders.

Pelosi previously said she would not make herself into a “lame duck” by putting an expiration date on her speakership. She had already promised before the midterm election that she would view her speakership as a “bridge” to a new generation of House leaders, leading some to believe that she would serve as leader for only one term.

Pelosi faced opposition from a minority of her fellow Democrats who argued that the party needed a new leader in the House. She has led House Democrats since 2003.

The dissidents, led by Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, have said they want to ensure that new ideas and new leadership can percolate to the top of the House leadership ranks and have criticized Pelosi for staying in the post for too long.

Pelosi needs 218 votes next month on the House floor when her candidacy for speaker goes head to head with the top House Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

Pelosi secured support from 203 House Democrats in a closed-door internal party vote last month. Thirty-two members voted against her and three others turned in blank ballots in a sign of opposition.

The majority of Democrats stood by Pelosi, arguing that she was the party’s best leader to stand up to President Trump and Senate Republicans. She is a fundraising powerhouse and has a record of never losing a vote on the House floor.

The opposition to Pelosi’s speakership — which has brewed for years — reached a peak once it became clear that Democrats would retake the House. Sixteen members signed a letter vowing they would not support Pelosi for speaker, though some later changed their minds.

The effort also fizzled because no candidate emerged to challenge Pelosi directly. Pelosi successfully picked off her critics, even promising to give some of them plum committee assignments or to make their issues a priority.

Critics say the opposition to Pelosi reeked of sexism and ageism, an allegation the opposition denied.

Republicans have long used Pelosi as a cudgel in House races around the country. That forced many House Democratic candidates to promise during the election that they would vote against her for speaker. More than two dozen of them won their races.

Some of them say they will stick by that pledge; others say they voted against her in caucus but will support her on the House floor.

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