Pelosi sees her power slip in chaotic 2021, with Democratic retirements, infighting

Political infighting and slew of Dem retirements are just a couple of Pelosi's problems

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and House Democrats had high hopes in early 2021 after she secured another term as speaker of the House along with a very narrow majority in the Senate and President Biden in the White House, but she has seen her power slip through the fingers of her once iron-clad fist.

Political infighting between moderates and progressives compounded with nearly two dozen House Democrats announcing in 2021 they weren't running for reelection have hurt her image ahead of the 2022 midterm elections next November.

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Party infighting between moderates and progressives

While moderates and progressives have found some common ground on policy issues, Pelosi has found herself in the middle of chaotic sniping between the two factions this year.

The infighting has gotten so bad that it contributed to longtime Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson’s decision to retire from office.

"You begin to question the why when you get to a point where our party is not as together as you’d like it to be, like you’ve experienced," she said.

Members of the "Squad," the far-left wing of the House Democrats, and the moderate wing have gone through tense negotiations over the last several months. After the Senate passed the infrastructure bill with an overwhelming bipartisan vote during the summer, many were optimistic there would be a simple path to passage in the House. 

This was not the case. Progressives demanded that the bill be held up until the Senate passed a social spending reconciliation that met their demands. Moderates countered that the infrastructure bill should be quickly sent to President Biden's desk, which led to months of animosity between the two factions, as progressives fumed that the moderates wouldn't act in good faith once the infrastructure bill became law. 

"It's the effing progressives," a moderate Democrat told Fox News earlier this year, saying progressives were requesting "unreasonable things." 

Pelosi found herself having to shift alliances throughout the process, working with and against both factions of her Democratic caucus.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Large pack of Democrats retiring from the House

As 2021 comes to a close, one of Pelosi’s biggest obstacles going into the new year is the number of Democrats not running for reelection.

Twenty-three Democrats are retiring or running for another office next year amid Biden’s disastrous first year in office that has seen an exacerbated border crisis, a deadly Afghanistan withdrawal and growing economic inflation.

Three Democrats in the House of Representatives – Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, and Albio Sires of New Jersey – announced just last week they were not running for reelection, an outcome that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., predicted in August during an interview with Fox News about the midterms.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

"Once you get past Thanksgiving and members go home, and they’re Democrats and they’ve been challenged before and they’re going to get beat up, Congress is not that great," he said. "They’re going to make a decision to retire, that’s the best time so they can go get another job. When we get that retirement number up higher, into double-digit figures, the whole thing becomes a different play."

In addition to multiple crises facing Democrats, Republicans have history on their side. The party that wins the White House in a presidential election on average loses more than 25 House seats in the following midterm election, and with Republicans needing a net gain of just five seats, they are in a favorable position, especially if more Democrats announce they aren't running for reelection in 2022.

Pelosi has dodged multiple questions in recent months about whether she would be running again for her own seat, telling reporters "I’m not here to talk about me" when pressed. However, a CNN report from a couple weeks ago said the California Democrat is planning to file and run for reelection in her San Francisco district and has previously said she's "confident" about Democrats' chances in 2022 and said she has "no intention" of losing the House.

A Gallup poll from earlier this month shows Pelosi's approval rating at 40%, three points below Biden and four points below Vice President Kamala Harris. Among Independents, her rating is even lower at 38%. 

Rising ‘Squad’ influence

While Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., earlier this month seemed to put the final nail in the coffin of the Build Back Better Act, a massive social spending bill that was a key priority of the Biden White House, especially progressives, the "Squad" was able to dominate political conversations on the national stage in Congress throughout 2021.

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For example, earlier this year, the "Sqaud" nearly sunk a Capitol security bill that was backed by Pelosi with a 213-212 vote due to its opposition to funding a "broken" policing system and ignoring "White supremacy," which it claimed contributed to the Jan. 6 riot. 

With the House Democrats having the slimmest Democratic majority since World War II, members of the Squad would have sunk the bill had there not been an apparent compromise where Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman voted "present" to avoid the bill failing. Three members of the Squad voted with Republicans because they were opposed to additional funding for policing.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, on May 6, 2021.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, on May 6, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told Fox News Digital that he believes they now have a "prominent seat at the table" and that issues they care about are at "the center of the discussion" compared to a few years ago, which he credits to the presidential campaigns of Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who were both endorsed by members of the Squad during the Democratic primary. 

He also told Fox News that despite the failure with Build Back Better, progressives had multiple policy wins, including the coronavirus stimulus bill, which included the child tax credit. He also mentioned infrastructure, pointing to investments in rural broadband and removing lead pipes.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a freshman lawmaker and outspoken member of the Squad, told BuzzFeed last month that the Democrats’ "old ways of thinking" are holding them back and that she doesn't wear the same glasses that Pelosi wears.

"For me, I’m not a woman first, I’m Black first. I don’t care about party lines the way that she does," Bush said. "I don’t care about looking like I’m leading, or care about being the one that is staying within — like, just playing the game."

Unforced errors

In addition to the infighting and mass exodus of House Democrats leaving office next year, Pelosi has committed several unforced errors, including flouting mask mandates that she has vocally encouraged

Last month, Pelosi officiated a billionaire heiress's wedding in California and was seen not wearing a mask, despite children being required to wear masks in the state. During another event, which was hosted by the California State Society last month in DC, Pelosi was seen in a picture not wearing a mask inside while others around her were. The event happened one day after Biden encouraged people to start wearing masks inside again, even if vaccinated, due to concerns about the omicron variant.

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi (Getty/AP)

In another incident during the summer, Pelosi removed her mask while taking a picture with a new congressman from Texas, appearing to violate the Capitol Police’s mask guidance. She also caught flak when a video surfaced at a fundraiser in Napa Valley with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) donors. Most of them were closely seated together and not wearing masks, including Pelosi. 

Pelosi has also faced scrutiny for her husband trading individual stocks while she is serving in Congress. A couple weeks ago she defended the practice, saying, "We’re a free market economy" and "They should be able to participate in that."  

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Ocasio-Cortez slammed Pelosi's defense a couple days later on Twitter, saying, "There is no reason members of Congress should hold and trade individual stock when we write major policy and have access to sensitive information."

"There are many ways members can invest w/o creating actual or appeared conflict of interest,like thrift savings plans or index funds," she continued.

Days after Pelosi defended her husband being able to trade individual stocks, he made over $1 million worth of purchases, according to a public disclosure released Wednesday. 

Pelosi's office did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.

Fox News' Paul Steinhauser and Tyler Olson contributed to this report.