House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled to party leaders that she plans on sticking around through the 2024 elections and is hoping the lingering shadow of former President Donald Trump will help Democrats defend their slim House majority in the midterm elections next year.
Those hopes will take a severe blow if Mrs. Pelosi can’t resolve the messy negotiations over President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan and $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
The bills have fractured the moderate and liberal wings of her caucus.
The spotlight is on the ability of Mrs. Pelosi, 81, to salvage her party’s agenda and on her future as the leader of a Democratic caucus riven by generational and ideological differences.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat, said he isn’t sure what the future holds for Mrs. Pelosi but there is no one he would rather have steering the ship.
“She is focused on everybody in that room,” Mr. Meeks said. “She has a notepad, and every speaker that speaks, no matter who, she is writing notes … she is talking to people, she is answering phone calls from members.
“That is what a leader really does, and that is how you can bring people together,” he said. “It is easy to bang a gavel and say this is what we are doing and then you have a revolt. She is not doing that.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Mrs. Pelosi is listening to the more liberal members of the caucus.
“Let’s just remember the speaker has been a great champion for this agenda,” Ms. Jayapal told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“She has really been pushing this agenda, and she and I have been in touch daily on it,” she said. “So, no, I don’t think she underestimated us. I think she was trying to do as much as she could to get this done, which I greatly appreciate.”
The daughter of a former congressman and mayor of Baltimore, Mrs. Pelosi has represented the San Francisco area since 1987.
Mr. Biden has leaned heavily on Mrs. Pelosi. He hasn’t been a regular on Capitol Hill for over a decade, and hundreds of lawmakers have taken office since he left the Senate after 40 years.
At the congressional baseball game last week, Mrs. Pelosi was captured on camera having an animated conversation on her cellphone while Mr. Biden handed out ice cream bars.
Mrs. Pelosi‘s efforts have been full of fits and starts. She has delayed votes more than once, adding to the sense of urgency inside the halls of Congress.
Republicans, meanwhile, have demonized Mrs. Pelosi and sought to derail her efforts by warning that the bills are part of her party’s push to “transform” the nation.
“The alarms are flashing all around us,” Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican and a member of the House Budget Committee, said Friday on C-SPAN. “We are approaching grave danger as a nation.”
“We are already seeing rising interest rates, wicked inflation is brewing, and that is just the beginning,” Mr. McClintock said. “So the idea of hitting the snooze button after all these alarms seems to be increasingly irresponsible.”
Whatever happens with Mr. Biden’s agenda will go a long way in determining the political landscape heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
Democrats are defending their slim majorities in the House and Senate.
History suggests that Republicans are well-positioned to flip control of the House, where Democrats hold a 220-212 edge.
The majority party has picked up seats in midterm elections only twice, in 2002 and 1998, since World War II.
Another bad omen: Mr. Biden’s approval rating sank below 50% after the chaotic withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan and the surge in COVID-19 with the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.
Democrats hope Mr. Trump will drag down Republicans and that their party can deliver legislation to strengthen incumbents running in swing districts and toss-up states.
Mrs. Pelosi, a prodigious fundraiser, has struck an optimistic note. She suggested last week that she is most comfortable in the political trenches and under the gun.
“You cannot tire. You cannot concede,” she said. “This is the fun part.”
Mrs. Pelosi has been the top House Democrat since she was elected as the first female speaker in 2007. She has snuffed out leadership challenges, including in 2018, when she struck a deal with liberal lawmakers by agreeing to serve as speaker for no more than four years.
She has led the party through some fierce political battles.
She was instrumental in passing a $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street, financial institutions and automakers, and passing the Affordable Care Act, which proved detrimental to Democrats in the 2010 elections but, over time, has become immensely popular with the public.
Indeed, the health care act is credited with helping Democrats win back the lower chamber and Mrs. Pelosi to return as speaker.
“The speaker has proven over her epic career never to underestimate her ability to get something done,” said Doug Thornell, a Democratic Party strategist. “Her legacy as a transformative speaker is set, and all the drama happening right now won’t impact that. She has the universal respect of her caucus because she is a winner, and I fully expect that by the end of this, Democrats will have a big legislative victory that will further cement her standing.”
The political world, meanwhile, has been rife with speculation about whether Mrs. Pelosi will fulfill her part of the bargain to relinquish the speaker’s gavel next year and, if so, who might replace her.
The rise of a new generation of Democrats and an insurgent left wing of the party have set the stage for a possible changing of the guard.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York has emerged as a possible contender but has butted heads with liberals in the caucus.
The scenario has raised doubts about whether Mr. Jeffries could secure enough support and whether Mrs. Pelosi is the sole lawmaker who could cobble together a winning coalition.
“I don’t think she is going anywhere because there are no clear alternatives,” said David McCuan, chair of the political science department at Sonoma University.
Mr. McCuan said Mrs. Pelosi‘s prospects would be jeopardized if Democrats fail to pass legislation and Republicans flip the House next year.
“You don’t want a pop in the mouth to be your swan song,” he said.