House GOP weighing term limits for leadership posts

House Republican leaders are considering setting term limits for leadership jobs.

The limits, if approved, would mean that Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) could only be the House’s top Republican for a maximum of six years. It remains unclear whether the rule would be retroactive or will become effective at the beginning of the 112th Congress, though the latter is more likely.

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told The Hill on Tuesday he would “be supportive of what’s being proposed, which is a six-year term limit for each position.”

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The House’s GOP transition team is considering the idea and could approve it in the weeks ahead. The move would be popular among the huge incoming Republican class, Republican aides said. They noted a term-limit rule would send members of that class a signal they will be able to move up in the House’s GOP’s hierarchy. 

House Democrats this Congress did not embrace term limits on committee chairmen or for leadership posts. That has caused some grumbling among younger Democrats in the lower chamber, especially after every Democratic leader opted to run again following the Nov. 2 election.

A six-year term limit on leadership posts would be consistent with the House GOP’s conference policy on chairmanships and ranking-member positions. Republicans in the lower chamber cannot serve in a committee’s top perch for more than six years unless they obtain a waiver. 

Cantor told a crowd of students at American University in Washington on Monday night that he supports leadership term limits. Cantor is the No. 2 House Republican behind Boehner.

Cantor’s deputy, incoming Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said that leadership should be treated the same way as panel chairmen.

“I think if you look through it and we’re saying committee chairs [should abide by term limits], it’s healthy with leadership as well,” the Californian lawmaker said.

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), is skeptical of the idea. 

Lawmakers in leadership positions are elected by the entire conference, while the GOP Steering Committee decides committee chairmanships and ranking-member assignments. 

“I think allowing the conference to work its will is usually the best thing to do in that regard,” Cole said.

House Republicans have previously set term limits on Speakers to eight years. That decision was made by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1995.

Gingrich served less than half of that time before his conference was set to vote him out of that position, following an election in which Republicans lost five seats.

House Republicans have not imposed term limits on other leadership positions, with the exception of NRCC chairman. That post is capped at four years. 

 GOP transition team chairman Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) discovered that there is a constitutional wrinkle to the possible term-limit initiative. Walden pointed out that the Speaker is right behind the vice president in the presidential line of succession.

The Speaker is also elected by the entire House chamber each session of Congress, whereas other leadership positions are voted on by the House Republican Conference and House Democratic Caucus.

“There is a constitutional question when it comes to Speaker that would trump rules of the House. There is no limitation on [a] Speaker’s service in the Constitution, I am told by lawyers,” Walden said.

Because of that, he added, House Republicans struck the term-limit provision from the rules during the fifth year of then-Rep. Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) Speakership. 

“There’s currently no limit. The question on Speaker is — if the House chose to elect someone as Speaker, the Constitution would trump the House rules,” he said.

In fact, Walden said, House Republicans voted to remove the term-limit rule adopted in 1995 that allowed an individual to serve only eight years as Speaker.

“Newt put himself under term limits in the House rules as Speaker — he never served long enough to have that effect,” Walden explained.

Still, an official well-versed in House parliamentary rules said that Republicans could adopt an internal rule related to the person they select as Speaker but that provision would not be binding for the entire House and would serve as “window dressing,” as the rule did when Gingrich and Hastert were Speakers.

Meanwhile, the issue of term limits for other GOP leadership positions is “bubbling up,” according to Walden.

“We had a discussion about it earlier [Tuesday] morning at the senior staff level. … It’s just floating out there right now. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Walden said as he headed to a transition team meeting.


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