(CBS NEWS) -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who has served as the highest-ranking female politician in American history, will stay on as the top Democrat in the House during the coming 113th Congress.
Pelosi's decision comes in the wake of an election in which her party picked up as many as seven House seats but fell short of the 25 necessary to retake control of the chamber. While Pelosi must run for reelection to her minority leadership position, no Democrat has made a move to seriously challenge her.
She announced her decision to colleagues in a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus and made it public in a news conference afterward, where she lauded the diversity of the incoming Congress in the meeting and noted her caucus will be made up of a majority of women and minorities.
"This picture before you is worth millions of votes, millions of votes," Pelosi said while surrounded be female lawmakers, who she called her "sisters." She added: "As you look forward, understand that you are looking forward into the future, the future of the empowerment of women in America."
Reporters could hear long, sustained applause from outside the meeting when Pelosi announced her decision to colleagues.
"She will continue to lead a united Democratic Caucus that will play a crucial role in developing a responsible deficit reduction package - working with President Obama and our colleagues in the Senate - that protects Social Security and Medicare, the middle class and children, while asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share," a source close to Pelosi told CBS News.
Pelosi, a 72-year-old Baltimore native, has served as the leader of the House Democrats for nearly a decade. She became the first female speaker of the House in 2007. After Republicans retook the House in the 2010 midterm elections, Pelosi fended off a leadership challenge from moderate Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina. Shuler contended that Pelosi, who was linked to vulnerable Democrats in Republican attack ads in the 2010 cycle, was too liberal for the job.
Prior to becoming House Minority Leader in 2003, Pelosi served eight terms in the House, which included a stint as Minority Whip and as ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Hailing from California's staunchly liberal 8th district in San Francisco, Pelosi has been a central player in many of the biggest battles in Washington over the past 10 years, and played a crucial role in sheparding President Obama's health care law through Congress.
A powerful and prolific fundraiser, Pelosi has a strong grip on her caucus, in particular its sizable liberal wing. In response to word she would stay on, Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Commitee deemed it a "good day for progressive power."
According to a Democratic leadership aide, Pelosi told colleagues Wednesday morning, "We may not have the gavel, but as I can see in this room, we have the unity."