By J. Randolph Evans - Two term Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces two possible futures following the General Election on November 2, 2010. Neither is a particularly pretty picture. If history is any indicator, Speaker Pelosi’s last day as the Speaker of the United States Congress will be January 2, 2011.
One possibility is that Democrats will lose a significant number of seats in the House, but not enough to lose control. Currently, Democrats hold a 253 to 178 margin in the House of Representatives. This means that if they lose 38 seats or fewer, then Democrats will retain control of the House and elect the next Speaker. Of course, Democrats do not have to reelect Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.
In 1998, Speaker Newt Gingrich was a two term Speaker who had led his party from minority status to majority control in the U. S. House. In 1994, Republicans had taken control of the House with huge gains during the first midterm election following the election of President Bill Clinton. Yet, in 1998, Republicans lost 5 seats in the House and Speaker Gingrich had become the centerpiece for Democratic attacks on every Republican Member of the House.
Not surprisingly, Republicans in the House were not very happy with the results, and were even less happy with the attacks they had endured. After hearing from Members, Speaker Gingrich announced on November 6, 1998 that he would not seek reelection as Speaker when the 106th Congress convened. Rather than force Republican Members to chose, he decided to leave the Congress and allow House Republicans to regroup.
Politics is like that – unforgiving and always about the last election. Speaker Gingrich knew that. Speaker Pelosi knows that now. Against this backdrop, Speaker Pelosi can see a very different political horizon ahead.
Even the most conservative Democratic estimates for the 2010 election include Democratic losses of 25-30 seats in the House. While losses of this magnitude would not jeopardize Democratic control, they would almost certainly cost Speaker Pelosi her Speakership.
As in 1998, Members around the country have felt the heat from defending the Speaker at home in their own reelection contests. In Georgia, Congressmen Jim Marshall, John Barrow, and Sanford Bishop can personally attest to the difficulties associated with the Pelosi Speakership and the accompanying record low approval ratings for the Congress. Democratic Members returning for the 112th Congress will want change. If enough Democratic Members survive to salvage Democratic control, that change will be at the top in the Speaker’s Office. At this point, Democrats hope for that chance.
Of course, an equally likely possibility is that Democrats actually lose control of the U. S. House on November 2, 2010. If that happens, then it will be the Republicans that elect the next Speaker and the only question will be what Speaker Pelosi does. Speakers have differed over time in responding to lost majorities. In 2006, Speaker Denny Hastert stayed on as a Member with a focus on Committee work.
In 1994, Speaker Tom Foley actually lost his Congressional seat and as a result was not even a Member when the Republicans took control. Of course, Speaker Pelosi could resign. Having once sat in the Speaker’s Chair, it could be a little tough to serve in any other capacity in the House. And, with a sitting President, there is always an assortment of positions and appointments that might interest her.
Or, she could return and serve as the Minority Leader. It has happened. Democratic Speaker Sam Rayburn was the longest serving Speaker in history – just not continuously. In 1940, Congressman Sam Rayburn was elected as Speaker. In 1946, Democrats lost control of the House and he stayed on as the Minority Leader. Then, in 1948, Democrats regained control of the House, and Sam Rayburn again become Speaker. In 1952, Democrats lost control again, and he remained in the Congress as the Minority Leader. Finally, Democrats regained control in 1954, and he was again elected Speaker.
Thanks to Speaker Pelosi, being the former Speaker of the House and still serving in the House might not be all that bad. As Speaker, Pelosi herself went to great lengths to treat former Speaker Hastert quite well.
Speaker Pelosi gave Speaker Hastert a notable office in the Capitol as the former Speaker of the House. He received staffing and allowances that were quite generous. And, she accorded him great respect. Undoubtedly, these were the kinds of things that she might expect when, and if, she became the Former Speaker of the House.
That day may come sooner rather than later. On January 3, 2011, Members of the House of Representatives will elect the next Speaker.