In a statement early Thursday, Pelosi offered heaps of praise to 89-year-old Feinstein, who she noted had “fought against the far right and for working families.”
“Senator Feinstein has been a leader in strengthening our national security wrote,” Pelosi wrote.
But Pelosi seemed to signal that perhaps it was time for a change, writing that “America is at a crossroads,” and warning that “the fight for America’s future is on the ballot” in 2024.
“If Senator Feinstein decides to seek re-election, she has my whole-hearted support,” Pelosi wrote.
“If she decides not to run, I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy,” Pelosi said.
In California political circles, a Pelosi endorsement of Schiff was seen as a near-certainty as soon as it was clear he would run for Senate—even though two other California lawmakers, Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, are also running.
That's because few figures are held in higher esteem by the former Speaker than Schiff, who has been a loyal ally and trusted lieutenant in some of the longtime Democratic leader's most challenging moments.
In 2019, Pelosi entrusted him to lead the impeachment investigation into Donald Trump—bypassing the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment. A new book on impeachment from a pair of Capitol reporters revealed that, privately, Pelosi was especially sensitive to Schiff’s counsel and gave him wide latitude to operate.
Pelosi ultimately made Schiff the head prosecutor in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial and, in 2021, placed him on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), whose district neighbors Pelosi’s, recalled multiple instances of the Speaker privately speaking of her regard for Schiff. “Very few members of our caucus, I think, would she praise more highly than I’ve heard her praise Adam Schiff,” he told The Daily Beast.
The Senate nod is not the first instance of Pelosi seeking to boost Schiff. In 2021, she lobbied California Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint him to the post of state attorney general. Newsom ultimately selected someone else.
But the 2024 race for Senate may be Schiff's best chance yet to advance to the higher office he clearly wants. In that effort, few figures may be more helpful than Pelosi.
The 36-year congresswoman from San Francisco is the most prodigious fundraiser in modern political history—boasting an unparalleled relationship with Democratic megadonors—and has a similarly unparalleled rolodex of contacts.
That’s true in Washington and perhaps truer in the Golden State. That Pelosi just stepped down as Democratic leader in December 2022 has not seemed to meaningfully diminish the perception of her clout.
“Nancy Pelosi is essentially the President of the nation-state of California," one Democratic strategist quipped.
In a race that could easily break records for fundraising and spending for an intra-party contest—with some speculating the whole race's price tag could total north of $100 million—Pelosi's rainmaking ability could be crucial for Schiff.
“Pelosi is the only person in politics with access to the old money—Getty types—who follow her wherever she goes,” said the Democratic strategist. “Those are people who won’t give unless Nancy tells them to, and she can get them for Schiff.”
While Pelosi's announcement on Thursday was couched in plenty of praise for Feinstein, it was clear that the former Speaker views Schiff as the worthiest possible successor.
“Every time I have asked Adam to take on the tough fight against extremist forces” Pelosi said, “he has responded with integrity, strength and success.”