President Biden has passed over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be US ambassador to the Vatican — dashing rampant speculation in DC that she would take the gig as a step toward retirement.
Biden instead chose as his emissary to Pope Francis former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill grumbled on Twitter about talk that the 81-year-old speaker would step aside for the overseas post.
“It’s not a rumor when you’ve been told repeatedly it’s false,” Hammill tweeted in response to journalist Jake Sherman, who had written that “[t]he rumor that @SpeakerPelosi would be named ambassador to the Vatican can be put to rest.”
Pelosi is a Catholic who often speaks about her religious faith, but her stance in favor of abortion rights has stirred controversy among pro-life clerics.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in May that Pelosi wasn’t entitled to communion due to her support of legal abortion and that “she’s respectful enough not to do anything so provocative.”
Pope Francis last month swatted at conservative church leaders pressing to deny Democrats the sacrament. “The pastor knows what to do. In every moment that he leaves the church’s pastoral path he immediately becomes a politician,” he said.
Although Pelosi’s possible departure was widely discussed among DC insiders, it was unclear who would have taken her place ahead of the 2022 midterms, in which Democrats face a stiff challenge from Republicans as Biden’s popularity plummets.
The other members of the Democratic House leadership team include House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 82, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 81. One rising figure, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), 51, would have been a plausible contender.
Democrats have in other cases struggled to persuade long-serving liberals to make room for younger replacements.
In a famous example, allies of then President Barack Obama tried in vain to persuade left-leaning Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down to allow for a younger replacement — dangling as an incentive an ambassadorship to France.
Walter Dellinger, a former solicitor general, said that “my suggestion was that the president have Breyer to lunch and say to him, ‘I believe historians will someday say the three greatest American ambassadors to France were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Stephen G. Breyer.’”
Breyer rebuffed the lobbying effort and remains on the Supreme Court. He is now 83.