Nancy Pelosi, longtime leader of Democrats in Washington and a master strategist as House speaker, says she will stand down when Republicans take over the chamber in January.

"The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus," says Pelosi. (AFP)

Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the trailblazing first female speaker of the US House of Representatives, has said that she will step down as party leader when Republicans take control of the chamber in January.

"I will not seek reelection to Democratic leadership in the next Congress," the 82-year-old Pelosi said on Thursday in an emotional speech on the House floor. "The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus."

Democratic President Joe Biden hailed Pelosi as a "fierce defender of democracy" and the "most consequential Speaker of the House of Representatives in our history."

"Because of Nancy Pelosi, the lives of millions and millions of Americans are better, even in districts represented by Republicans who voted against her bills and too often vilify her," Biden said in a statement.

"History will also note her fierceness and resolve to protect our democracy from the violent, deadly insurrection of January 6," when supporters of Republican former president Donald Trump attacked the US Capitol, he said.

Currently second in the presidential line of succession, after Vice President Kamala Harris, Pelosi said last week that a decision on her future would be influenced by the brutal attack on her husband in the run-up to the November 8 midterms.

Pelosi said she would continue to represent her San Francisco district in the next Congress and praised Democrats' better-than-expected performance in the midterm contest.

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Pelosi has been a prominent figure in the US capital over a tenure spanning seven presidential administrations.

She first served as House speaker from 2007 to 2011, then regained the job in 2019 after her party took back control of the chamber in the 2018 midterm elections.

With Pelosi stepping down from leadership and fellow octogenarians Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, the number two and three Democrats, signalling they will do the same, the party is on the cusp of a generational shift in power.

New York lawmaker Hakeem Jeffries, 52, who is expected to become Democratic minority leader in the next House, called Pelosi the "G.O.A.T" — a sports reference to the Greatest of All Time.

"Thank you for all that you have done for America," Jeffries said.

Her announcement met with a far different reaction on the Republican side. "The Pelosi era is over. Good riddance!" tweeted Colorado lawmaker Lauren Boebert.

Kevin McCarthy, a 57-year-old Republican lawmaker from California, is lobbying to take over the speaker's gavel from Pelosi in the Republican-majority House.

McCarthy won a party leadership vote by secret ballot on Tuesday, but potential far-right defections could complicate his path when the House's 435 newly elected members — Democrats and Republicans — choose a new speaker in January.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies