WASHINGTON — Representative Nancy Pelosi reached a deal with dissident Democrats to limit herself to four years as speaker, her most consequential move to date to put down a rebellion in her ranks and clinch the votes she needs to win the gavel in January.
The agreement, if adopted, would also bind the other three top Democratic leaders and would almost certainly clear the way for Pelosi, the Democratic leader from California, to reclaim the mantle of first woman to serve in the post that is third in line to the presidency. It would also signal a major shift for Democrats, who, despite the striking diversity and demographic shifts within their party, have governed for more than a decade with the same trio at the helm. That trio, Pelosi, 78, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, 79, and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, 79, must now prepare to cede power to a new generation, even as they move to take the House majority next month.
Among the Democrats who had been critical of Pelosi was Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and he agreed to the deal.
“Our party has spent the last month debating who will lead us and where we’ll take the fight first. This has been a contentious process, with some members advocating for action on specific issues and others calling for new leadership in the top three positions of our party, as I have. After working to elect candidates across the country for the last year, I want to make sure the new generation of leaders in our caucus gets a chance to actually lead,” he said in a statement.
Pelosi handily won an internal vote among Democrats this month to be nominated as speaker, a post she held from 2007 to 2011. But a small group of defectors who have agitated for new leadership at the top of the party have been threatening to withhold their votes when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3 for a formal vote on the House floor. Pelosi would need a majority of those present and voting in the chamber — as many as 218 — to be elected.
The rebels demanded that Pelosi either step aside or give a date when she would do so, something she had refused to do, arguing that it would weaken her hand as a bulwark against President Trump.
Representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, a member of the group, has been leading private discussions with Pelosi and other colleagues about a compromise wherein she would agree to a four-term limit — eight years — that would apply retroactively, taking into account the two terms she already served as speaker.
A spokeswoman for Perlmutter could not be reached for comment. An aide to Pelosi, speaking on condition of anonymity, would say only that productive conversations about a path forward are occurring.
The agreement would also apply to the other three top Democratic leaders: Hoyer, who is in line to be the majority leader; Clyburn, who is set to be the whip; and Representative Ben Ray Luján, the assistant Democratic leader.
Under the agreement being discussed, which was first reported by Politico, the four leaders would be limited to three two-year terms, with the possibility of a fourth if they could garner the support of two-thirds of the Democratic Caucus. Given that Pelosi, Hoyer, and Clyburn, all in their 70s, have already served two terms in the top three posts, it would put a hard cap on their tenures, forcing them out of their posts by 2022.
The agreement could be announced as soon as Wednesday, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the confidential talks were continuing.
It is not clear whether the Democratic Caucus would embrace the changes Pelosi is weighing; at least one influential player, Hoyer, has flatly said he is against the idea and told reporters Tuesday that “she’s not negotiating for me.”
But an endorsement of the plan by Pelosi would go a long way toward securing her place as speaker and prod other Democrats — many who have pressed privately and publicly for changes at the top to reflect a younger, more diverse caucus — to vote in favor of it when the party meets to set its own rules early next year.