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Week in politics: Pelosi steps down; Trump announces 2024 presidential run

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Most of the midterm elections have been called, and we do know congressional leadership will be different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: My colleagues, I stand before you as speaker of the House, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a devout Catholic, a proud Democrat and a patriotic American, a citizen of the greatest republic in the history of the world.

(APPLAUSE)

SIMON: Speaker Pelosi announced Thursday that she will not seek another term as Democratic leader in the House. NPR senior correspondent and editor Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The speaker's 82 and promised four years ago she would step down this year. But the Democrats just confounded a lot of predictions in the midterms. She has only gained in popularity over the past couple of years. As I don't have to tell you, promises in politics can be conditional. Are you surprised by her decision?

ELVING: No, not really. Each of those factors you mention was indeed important. But in the end, she stuck with the plan, which was to lead a dignified generational passing of the torch. And it was also clear that her decision was affected by the situation with her husband, Paul, who was severely injured by an intruder last month, someone who broke into their home apparently seeking to harm or even kidnap the speaker.

So both Nancy and Paul Pelosi are 82. And without this leadership burden, she's going to be free to spend more time with him and with their five children and nine grandchildren, all of whom she name-checked...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: ...In that farewell speech this week. And then, of course, there was the vow that she had made to secure the speakership back in 2018 that you mentioned. Now, that was right after the Democrats had won a majority in the House.

SIMON: Course, a number of Democratic members have already announced they're running for leadership positions. What do you foresee?

ELVING: Well, they're going to be younger and more diverse, and that is consonant with the Democratic Party's new profile and new message. Three leaders have stepped forward, and they're in good shape to be elected officially later this month. Hakeem Jeffries, New York City, 30 years younger than Pelosi, will be the first African American member to lead either of the major parties in either the House or the Senate. Jeffries will present a great contrast in other ways as well - generally, a very low-key legislator who tends to favor consensus over controversy. Katherine Clark from suburban Boston is positioned to be the Democratic whip. Pete Aguilar, a Latino from California, will be the Democratic Caucus chair if this group holds together. And we do believe they have the inside track.

SIMON: Yeah. Donald Trump took the stage in Mar-a-Lago this week to announce he'd run for president again. And, course, just a couple of days later, the attorney general named a special prosecutor to oversee investigations into the former president's activities. What do we make of these two events?

ELVING: Well, they're not unrelated, to be sure. Trump jumped very early on the 2024 announcement, in part because he had planned to ride the big red wave that didn't happen - also, in part, to freeze prospective rivals for the Republican nomination. But ultimately, it seems he was creating a narrative here with which to discredit Merrick Garland's expected prosecution of his case. And now we know that Garland was not intimidated. And Jack Smith, who's a former head of the Public Integrity Division of DOJ, he has a formidable reputation for toughness and for handling complicated cases and politically sensitive cases. And none of that is good news for the former president.

SIMON: Feel the need to mark the 80th birthday of President Biden tomorrow. He's been counted out politically so many times, really, over the past 30 years. And then he managed to avoid a widely predicted election losses in the middle of a difficult economy and foreign crisis. What's his secret sauce?

ELVING: You know, Biden must now face the age-old question - how old is too old to be president? And the Biden of today is not the Biden of 30 years ago or even perhaps the Biden of three years ago. He's given to verbal gaffes and moments of physical uncertainty. But these midterms had to be encouraging for him. And Trump's announcement is an added incentive for Biden to run.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.