Washington, DC – While Americans may have been divided over Nancy Pelosi’s legacy, few would disagree that the outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives’s decision to step down spells a new era in US politics.
For nearly 30 years, Pelosi was the top Democratic House lawmaker, guiding historic legislation to the finish line as speaker, and frustrating – and sometimes cooperating with Republicans as minority leader.
Here, Al Jazeera looks at what’s next for the House and US politics in the post-Pelosi era.
Who will replace Pelosi as speaker?
Democrats narrowly lost control of the House in the midterm elections earlier this month. So, the next speaker will be from the incoming Republican majority.
In an internal vote, the Republican caucus has nominated Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve as speaker, so he will likely take the gavel from Pelosi when the new Congress convenes on January 3.
But that outcome is not guaranteed.
With vote counting still under way, the exact makeup of the new Congress is not yet known. Several House contests remain too close to call.
The House speaker is elected by a majority of all members. At least two right-wing Republicans have said they would not back McCarthy for speaker. With a slim Republican majority, McCarthy may not be able to secure the 218 votes he needs to succeed Pelosi.
In that case, the House will hold further rounds of voting until a candidate wins a majority. Without a speaker, the chamber would be effectively nonfunctional.
The last time a speaker was not elected in the first roll call was in 1923.
Who will become the Democratic leader?
With Pelosi leaving the House leadership, Democrats will need to find a new lawmaker to serve as minority leader and subsequently as speaker if they regain control of the chamber in the future.
That new leader will most likely be New York’s Hakeem Jeffries, who has the backing of Pelosi and other top Democrats.
Jeffries, 52, announced his bid for the leadership in a letter to colleagues on Friday. The congressman, who currently serves as the Democratic caucus chairman, has been widely believed to be a frontrunner to succeed Pelosi for years. Now he appears set to run uncontested for the leadership role.
If he wins, he would become the first Black party leader in Congress.
What is Jeffries’s agenda?
In the letter announcing his bid, Jeffries promised to build on the work that House Democrats have done over the years in cooperation with the Biden administration.
He also promised to push to “empower” individual members of the racially and ideologically diverse Democratic caucus and work to take back the majority in 2024.
The congressman said Democrats would improve their communication strategy to highlight that they are “actually the party that defends freedom, promotes economic opportunity and values families by uplifting them”.
After the assault on Pelosi’s husband at the couple’s home in San Francisco, which authorities say was politically motivated, Jeffries said he would bolster lawmakers’ security.
And while praising what House Democrats have achieved in recent years, he said: “More must be done to combat inflation, defend our democracy, secure reproductive freedom, welcome new Americans, promote equal protection under the law and improve public safety throughout this country.”
Who else is leaving the Democratic leadership?
Pelosi is not the only top Democrat who will be stepping down from the House leadership. House majority leader Steny Hoyer – also in his 80s – will not retain his leadership position, either.
Majority whip Jim Clyburn, 82, is also expected to step down and seek another leadership role.
Massachusetts’s Katherine Clark has launched a bid to become the Democratic whip, and California’s Pete Aguilar is a frontrunner to take over as caucus chair.
Pelosi endorsed Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar in a statement on Thursday, saying that they reflect the “beautiful diversity” of the country.
Yesterday, I said that the time has come for a new generation to lead our magnificent @HouseDemocrats. It is with pride, gratitude and confidence in their abilities that I salute @RepJeffries, @RepKClark & @RepPeteAguilar for being ready and willing to assume this responsibility.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) November 18, 2022
What will Pelosi do next?
The outgoing speaker will continue to serve as a congresswoman, representing her San Francisco district at least for the next two years after she was reelected earlier this month.
“There is no greater official honour for me than to stand on this floor and to speak for the people of San Francisco,” she said on Thursday.
“This I will continue to do as a member of the House – speaking for the people of San Francisco, serving the great state of California and defending our Constitution.”