(CN) — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has led the Democratic party in the House of Representatives since 2002 and who is the first woman at the helm of a major party in Congress, said Thursday she will step down as House leader of the Democrats but remain a member of Congress.
Pelosi, 82, made the announcement on the House floor, frequently interrupted by standing ovations from fellow lawmakers.
"With great confidence in our caucus, I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress," Pelosi said. "For me the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect, and I'm grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility."
Pelosi got an especially warm ovation when she expressed her gratitude for the support she and her husband Paul have received as he recovers from a brutal attack at their San Francisco home by a man who was looking to kidnap her.
"For my husband Paul, who has been my beloved partner in life and my pillar of support, thank you," Pelosi said. "We're all grateful for all the prayers and well wishes as he continues his recovery."
The Democrats lost their House majority in this month's midterm election, though the Republican gains were fare more modest than the "red wave" that had been predicted. Pelosi, who has been a frequent lightning rod for attacks by former President Donald Trump and his devoted supporters, said she will remain in the House as San Francisco's representative.
"My friends, no matter what title you all my colleagues have bestowed on me –speaker, leader, whip– there's no greater official honor for me than to stand on this floor and to speak for the people of San Francisco," she said. "This I will continue to do as a member of the House, speaking for the people of San Francisco, serving the great state of California, and defending our Constitution."
President Joe Biden praised Pelosi's leadership, citing her role in rescuing the U.S. economy under the Barack Obama administration after the 2008 financial meltdown, passing the Affordable Care Act, and ending the Don't Ask Don't Tell restrictions on openly LGBTQ members of the military.
"History will note she is the most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history," Biden said in a statement. "There are countless examples of how she embodies the obligation of elected officials to uphold their oath to God and country to ensure our democracy delivers and remains a beacon to the world. In everything she does, she reflects a dignity in her actions and a dignity she sees in the lives of the people of this nation."
During the first two years of his presidency, Pelosi had been a "singular force securing once-in-a-generation bills that will define our nation for decades to come," including the American Rescue Plan to navigate the country through the Covid-19 pandemic and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to rebuild our roads and bridges, Biden added.
California Governor Gavin Newsom called Pelosi the model of dedicated public service.
“Speaker Pelosi has never wavered in the fight to better our nation, even in the face of opposition or hate" Newsom said in a statement. "Time and again, she has delivered for California and for the nation, often in the face of unspeakable odds. Her career in Congress, and as Speaker, has been a masterclass in powerful, empathetic leadership, guided by her strong moral compass and unmatched political skill."
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