When Nancy Invoked Tip … Fair Comparison?

Jason Dick
Posted July 1, 2015 at 12:08pm

When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was questioned about any retirement plans by CNBC’s John Harwood , she was having none of it, and invoked Democratic royalty, former Speaker Thomas J. “Tip” O’Neill, as a point of comparison. So is it a fair point to compare the two?  

“Did any of you ever ask Tip O’Neill, ‘Don’t you think you’re a little old for the job?’ I don’t think so,” the California Democrat replied to Harwood’s recent question about whether she was feeling pressure to step aside so other Democrats could lead the caucus.  

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

While we can’t speak to what the press corps was asking the Massachusetts Democrat back in the 1980s, we can look at the numbers. O’Neill was 74 years old when he left Congress in Jan. 1987, having announced his retirement well in advance of the 1986 elections. Pelosi is 75 years old, and while she is frequently the source of speculation about retirement, she has given no timetable for stepping aside.  

O’Neill was the top House Democrat, speaker, from 1977 to 1987. Before that he was majority leader from 1973-1977 and was majority whip from 1971-1973. He served in Congress from Jan. 1953 to Jan. 1987. Pelosi has been the top House Democrat, either minority leader or speaker, since Jan. 2003. She was minority whip from Oct. 2001 to Jan. 2003. She was elected in a special election and has been in Congress since June 2, 1987.  

O’Neill’s Democrats were in the majority his entire 10 years as speaker. Of Pelosi’s 12 years and counting as the top House Democrat, her party spent four years in the minority from 2003 to 2007, then were in the majority from 2007 to 2011, and have been in the minority since 2011.  

To be sure, times are different. Lifespans are longer and people, particularly politicians, are working longer. Perhaps the issue is less one of age than power. Pelosi has that. Others don’t. Until another ambitious Democrat demonstrates the ability to raise mounds of money and command votes the way she does, what’s her incentive to voluntarily step aside?

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