(WASHINGTON) — Fresh from presiding over Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s joint address to Congress and flanked by a vintage photo of Winston Churchill’s 1941 speech to the chamber, Nancy Pelosi on Thursday delivered her last news conference as House speaker before Republicans retake control on Jan. 3.
The 82-year-old outgoing Democratic leader from California weighed the historic events which surround her exit — Zelenskyy’s speech, updates on the final report from the Jan. 6 select committee, the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill — and, when asked, reflected upon her own barrier-breaking time as speaker and what her future role will be as just one of 435 representatives in the House.
While relinquishing the gavel, the first and only woman elected to lead the House and, for a time, the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government said she would maintain “strong influence” and back a new era of female leaders in support of the “integrity of the institution.”
In announcing last month that she would be stepping down from leadership, Pelosi also said she intends to serve her next term as a lawmaker representing San Francisco.
“As speaker of the House, I have awesome power. As I’m transitioning to a different, new role, I expect to have strong influence. But not on my members but just in terms of encouraging more women, for example, to run … The speaker of the House is a very big job and just wrapping it up will take time,” Pelosi said on Thursday.
“I’m not going to be the mother-in-law, comes in and say, ‘This is the way my son likes his turkey stuffing, his scrambled eggs, or anything else,"” she added about her future relationship with incoming Democratic leadership.
Pelosi also said that while she has not had any formal conversations with GOP leader Kevin McCarthy — her presumed successor, who is currently embroiled in a quest for speaker votes — she hopes that a new speaker will be swiftly selected in early January so congressional duties quickly resume.
“We interact, and I’m just hoping that on Jan. 3 that they’ll be expeditiously able to elect a speaker so that we can get on with the work of the Congress,” she said. “I think they’ll have a speaker. My interest… [is] the integrity of the institution, the strength of and respect that the institution commands.”
Pelosi remarked on her own entrance to Congress in 1987, when few women occupied such seats, let alone leadership posts, and her hope to encourage further diversity in future Congresses.
“Some of us just made a decision: We have to change this, we have to recruit, we have to fund, we have to encourage women to run, give confidence to them,” she said.
“I say the best advice I ever had that I extend to you is: Be yourself. You’re the only person in the history of the world who was you … I get overwhelmed by women telling me how I’ve given them confidence or a role model … and I said, ‘Don’t worry about any role model. Be yourself."”
Pelosi began her weekly press conference, which occurred routinely over her time as a Democratic leader, by looking back on recent days at the Capitol.
“It’s been a momentous week for our democracy,” she said. “Yesterday was … my high honor to welcome President Zelenskyy of Ukraine here in the United States Capitol.”
Pelosi has described Zelenskyy’s U.S. trip with great reverence since it was first reported on Tuesday evening, repeatedly linking the wartime president’s visit to Churchill’s past address, when her father, the late Maryland Rep. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., was a member of the House.
On Wednesday, before what was likely the last time she would preside over a joint meeting of Congress before stepping down, Pelosi talked about on the significance of the Ukrainian president’s speech while appearing with him during a photo opportunity on the Hill.
“When Winston Churchill came here in 1941, the day after Christmas, really within a week and 81 years of today, and he made the case for calling upon America to help fight tyranny and your — he said at that time: ‘We are doing the noblest work in the world, not only defending hearth and homes but the cause of freedom in every land,"” she said.
“Eight decades later, it is my official honor … now to welcome President Zelenskyy to make a joint address to a joint session,” she said.
Pelosi, who assumed the speakership for a second time when Democrats won the House in the 2018 midterm elections, sat at the helm of Congress during the Jan. 6 insurrection, an event she said during Thursday’s press conference was an assault on democracy itself.
“The world will see the final report of the bipartisan select committee to investigate Jan. 6 after 18 months of tirelessly defending democracy,” she said, thanking the committee’s chairman, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, and Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for their leadership.
“The 117th Congress began with a violent assault on our democracy. And now we’re here at its conclusions. We have a vital roadmap and ensuring justice will be done and that this won’t happen again,” Pelosi said.
Near the end of her time at the podium, Pelosi expressed gratitude for everyone whom she had encountered over her 19 years leading her party in the House.
“I think that probably the most overwhelming thing I’ll be doing forever is saying ‘thank you,"” she said.
“Thank you to my members, thank you to the intellectual resources that have helped us with policy. Thank you for those who have helped us politically to attain our majorities and our strength in the Congress,” she continued. “I think my life will be about accountability, to the record, the history, and thank you to those who made all that possible.”
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