The past seven speakers of the House have lost their majority, been forced out by their own colleagues, or stepped down amid personal scandal. One of them — Nancy Pelosi — now has a second chance to rewrite her legacy.
On Thursday, the 78-year-old Pelosi will be the first person in more than six decades, since the legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, to return to the speaker’s chair after losing it. She will be surrounded by children as she does so, a replay of an iconic moment from her January 2007 swearing-in ceremony as the first female speaker in history.
But Pelosi will also tie Rayburn on another front by becoming the oldest person ever elected speaker and the oldest to hold the post, a testament to both her staying power and the fact that her return engagement to the speakership will be limited.
Unlike her original go-round as speaker from 2007 to 2011, when the California Democrat was at her most powerful, Pelosi will face a whole new set of challenges during the 116th Congress — a fractious caucus full of upstart progressives who want to move an ambitious agenda; the unpredictable President Donald Trump, who has greeted Pelosi’s return to power with an ongoing government shutdown; a determined, experienced foe in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who runs his own chamber with a tight grip; and self-imposed term limits on her speakership of four years.
All that, however, shouldn’t diminish the scale of what Pelosi has done. She survived a challenge to her leadership after a 63-seat wipeout in the 2010 tea party wave. She faced more Democratic complaints in 2014 and 2016 — the latter heightened by the Democratic despair over Trump’s victory. Throughout this latest election cycle, moderate Democratic incumbents and candidates warned they wouldn’t vote for Pelosi for speaker and a band of rebels sought to derail her return to the speaker’s chair.
In the end, Pelosi overcame it all.