House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced a deal Wednesday that could likely deliver her the votes to become speaker again – but only for another two terms, laying out a timeline she had been reluctant to articulate until now.
The longtime Democratic leader negotiated an agreement with a small group of Democrats who’ve been lobbying to block Pelosi from the speakership in their push for a new generation of leadership.
The deal – which won over seven of her critics – would essentially guarantee Pelosi two more years as speaker but she could serve no longer than four years in the job.
“Over the summer, I made it clear that I see myself as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new Members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic Caucus,” she said in a statement.
As part of the agreement, Pelosi is backing a proposal to enact term limits for the party’s top three leaders. The agreement that would affect Pelosi, as well as her top two deputies, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina – a trio that’s led House Democrats for more than a decade.
The agreement stipulates that top leaders can serve for only three terms. Another term sought beyond that would require approval by two-thirds of the Democratic caucus, higher than the current simple majority threshold.
The proposal is retroactive, meaning Pelosi would be entering her third term in 2019. If she did go on to win a fourth term in 2021 with the support of two-thirds of the caucus, it would have to be her last. Pelosi, along with Hoyer and Clyburn, served for two terms in leadership when Democrats controlled the House from from 2007-2011.
Clyburn stands with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who oppose term limits, according to a source familiar with his thinking. As part of the deal, Clyburn would be term limited as whip after this next session of Congress, unless he wins support from two-thirds support of the caucus to serve a fourth and final term.
Pelosi announced the incoming Democratic caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries and the incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern plan to bring it up for a vote in caucus on February 15.
If the caucus votes against the term limits proposal, Pelosi said she’ll still stick by it.
“I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,” she said.
While the talks at one point also included term limits for lower-level leadership roles and committee chairs, the agreement announced Wednesday only addressed top leadership positions.
Pelosi, as she seeks to shore up support for her speaker bid, has been in active conversations with Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who helped manage a letter signed by more than a dozen Democrats vowing to not support Pelosi for speaker.
Moments after the deal was announced, Perlmutter, along with Reps. Bill Foster, Linda Sanchez, Seth Moulton, Tim Ryan, Filemon Vela, and Rep.-elect Gil Cisernos announced they would support her.
“We wish to thank Nancy Pelosi for her willingness to work with us to reach this agreement. We are proud that our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders. We will support and vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress.”
The speaker vote is set for January 3. While Pelosi won the nomination for speaker last month with than 85% of the caucus behind her, she needs slightly more than that in the full House vote on January 3.
At that time, she would need a majority of the full House, which traditionally amounts to 218 votes. With 235 Democrats in the House, she can afford to lose 17 of her own and still get to 218. It’s expected many of those anti-Pelosi votes will come from freshmen who pledged to oppose her during their campaigns.
It’s still unclear whether the term limits will be officially adopted, as the caucus still has to approve a rule change and many Democrats have already expressed staunch opposition to the idea. On Tuesday, House Democrats held a heated debate over term limits, ultimately deciding to table the discussion until incoming freshmen members can take part in the conversation at the start of the new year.
Broadly, the idea of term limits is a contentious topic among Democrats, where a divide exists between those eager to see a new generation of leaders and those who say seniority and experience matter.
Hoyer, who’s been in Congress for three decades and served as majority leader when Democrats last held power, passionately decried the idea of term limits this week. Hoyer noted he had repeatedly cosponsored legislation in the past that called for repealing term limits for the presidency.
“I’m not for term limits. … Is anybody confused?” he told reporters on Tuesday, before reiterating it emphatically. “I. Am. Not. For. Term. Limits.”
Asked how he feels about Pelosi entertaining the idea of term limits in her negotiations, Hoyer was frank. “She’s not negotiating for me.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, also said he opposed the idea, saying if people don’t like a leader, they can just vote them out at the end of a term.
“This whole thing about these guys needing something so that they can land this damn plane is getting silly,” Richmond said, referring to the group of rebels. “Land the plane. Vote for her. And let’s please get on.”
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.