Pelosi’s historic tenure should be the template for Democrats’ new leaders

There are a few political figures today more maligned by conservatives than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, mostly because she has been so effective. From her guidance of the Affordable Care Act through Congress more than a decade ago to her steady hand through the tumultuous Trump era, she built a legacy that history will treat far better than it will her detractors.

But the 82-year-old Pelosi’s decision last week to step down as the House Democratic leader is the right one, handing off to a new generation during what is sure to be a confrontational reign by a slim Republican House majority.

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Whoever succeeds Pelosi should strive to provide the same stability and seriousness she brought to her post — which must include reining in the often-counterproductive instincts of the party’s hard left.

Pelosi in 2007 became the first woman elected to a top congressional leadership role.

Since then, in her stewardship of House Democrats both as speaker and minority leader, she has built a historically diverse House caucus, elevating women, racial minorities and LGBTQ candidates into House seats and leadership positions in unprecedented numbers.

At the same time, she has deftly herded the cats that make up her philosophically divided party, pushing through landmark legislation on health care, pandemic relief and infrastructure by convincing her perpetually dissatisfied fellow Democrats of the necessity of compromise and realism.

Contrary to the Republican caricature of her as a quasi-socialist, Pelosi has generally sought to “govern from the middle,” as she once advised Barack Obama.

Not everyone in her party has been happy about that.

The leftist young House progressives known as “The Squad” (which includes St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush) have brought some energy to the caucus but also have created partywide headaches with their defund-the-police nonsense and other distractions.

Pelosi has generally managed to walk the line between keeping them at the table and not allowing their ideological extremism to commandeer her caucus.

House Republican leaders can’t say the same — not with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and other batty right-wingers poised to wield significant influence under the coming GOP House majority.

The best response from Democrats would be to seat new leaders who can uphold their party’s ethos of diversity, tolerance and progress while confronting head-on the missteps Democrats have taken on issues like inflation and crime.

Pelosi’s designated heir-apparent, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, 52, appropriately highlighted both those issues in a letter to colleagues last week. Jeffries, who would be the first Black caucus leader, is conversant with the left of the party but not in thrall to it.

That initially feels like the right mix for Democrats to continue navigating their own internal conflicts while unifying to confront what are sure to be the excesses of the Republican right in the next two years.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch