Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said it's time for the next generation of Democratic lawmakers to lead the party in Congress in an interview on Oct. 5. (C-SPAN's Newsmakers)

A senior House Democrat said Thursday that it’s time for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and two top lieutenants to prepare to step down and make way for the next generation of lawmakers in her caucus.

The comments by Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (Calif.), who as vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus ranks fifth in the 194-member body, are the most explicit by a senior congressional Democrat and a member of the California congressional delegation about Pelosi’s political future.

Pelosi, 77, has served in Congress since 1987 and has led House Democrats for 14 years. She served as House speaker from 2007 to 2011 and has remained as minority leader since Democrats lost control of the chamber. In recent weeks she has emerged as an unlikely partner of President Trump in negotiations over spending bills and the future of immigration policy.

But Pelosi faced a stronger-than-anticipated challenge to her leadership post last fall after Democrats failed again to take back the House. Sixty-three members of her caucus voted instead for Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), who had mounted an upstart bid to unseat her just a few days before. In the months since, Pelosi has created new leadership positions for younger and newer lawmakers in a bid to address concerns that there are few opportunities for advancement as long as Democrats remain mired in the minority.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) downplayed special-election losses and defended her leadership at her weekly news conference on June 22. (Reuters)

On Thursday, Sánchez signaled in a television interview that the generational rift remains.

“I do think it’s time to pass a torch to a new generation of leaders, and I want to be a part of that transition,” Sánchez said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” in an interview conducted by reporters with The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. “I want to see that happen. I think we have too many great members here that don’t always get the opportunities that they should. I would like to see that change.”

Pressed to clarify her comments, Sánchez went further and said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and House Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn (S.C.), who have been part of Pelosi’s leadership team for more than a decade, also should prepare to step down.

“They are all of the same generation, and, again, their contributions to the Congress and the caucus are substantial. But I think there comes a time when you need to pass that torch. And I think it’s time,” she said.

Sánchez said that the leadership change did not need to happen immediately but by after next year’s elections. The 48-year-old lawmaker also stressed that her concerns were about seniority. “This is not an age thing,” she said.

Hoyer, 78, has served in Congress since 1981 and as Pelosi’s deputy since she took the top spot in 2003. Clyburn, 77, has been in Congress since 1993 and served as majority whip when Democrats controlled the House from 2007 to 2011. In the years since, he has served as “assistant Democratic leader.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman, said in an email that she “enjoys wide support in the Caucus and has always said she is not in Congress on a shift but on a mission. Leader Pelosi is focused on winning back the House and anything else is a distraction from our path to the Majority.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Sept. 25. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Hoyer said in a statement that Sánchez is “an outstanding” caucus vice chairman, “and I agree with her that we have talented leaders throughout our Caucus. I remain laser-focused on taking back the House, a goal all House Democrats share and are working tirelessly toward.”

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Pelosi said that she might have been thinking about leaving Congress, but felt compelled to stay after Trump’s victory.

“One of the reasons I stayed here is because I thought Hillary Clinton would win, we’d have a woman president and so there would be a woman not at a seat at the table, but at the head of the table for the world,” Pelosi told the Times.

“We wanted to have a woman president,” she added. “But when we didn’t, then I couldn’t walk away and say, okay, just let all the men have the seats at the table that are making decisions for our country.”

Aides to Clyburn had no immediate comment.

Sánchez said she didn’t know whether Pelosi could survive another challenge to her leadership position and didn’t know who might seek to serve as the next Democratic leader. But, she said, “I think I’m well placed to help make that transition to a new generation of leadership.”

Sánchez has served in Congress since 2003, representing parts of eastern Los Angeles County. She was narrowly elected as caucus vice chairman last year, served as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and sits on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. She was part of a group of moderate Democrats who met with Trump last month at the White House to discuss tax and immigration policy.

The C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview is scheduled to air in full on the public affairs network this Sunday.