Republicans hail proposal to impose committee term limits on both parties

House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) holds the gavel during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Trump on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI Photo

A proposal by House Republicans to add term limits for committee chairs and ranking members to House rules if they win back control of the chamber is getting some enthusiastic support from GOP lawmakers with a side of hesitation.

Punchbowl News reported Monday that the House GOP is considering such a change, which would block several senior Democrats from keeping their top committee spots next year and force other Democrats out of coveted top slots. 

The House Republican Conference already has a longtime internal rule that prohibits members from serving more than three consecutive terms as a ranking member or chair of a committee, but the House Democratic Caucus does not limit how long a lawmaker may serve in those roles on a panel.

The proposal won praise from Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), who backs legislation to amend the Constitution to impose term limits on all members of Congress. 

“Putting term limits on committee leadership ensures we’re putting the best players in these powerful positions every single term,” Burchett said. “Republicans have been doing this for years, but Democrats have been content to hand these roles to whichever members have been in Washington the longest.”

A GOP lawmaker who did not want to be identified heard about the proposal for the first time on Monday morning and said that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has not discussed the idea with the conference yet.

“My own view, and I suspect the view of many rank-and-file members, is that it would be a very good idea. As a general premise, we (conservatives) believe in merit-based leadership appointments, and not seniority,” the lawmaker said.

If adopted, such a rule would prompt a wave of committee leadership turnover among Democrats, some of whom have served as their party’s top leaders on powerful panels for decades. 

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (N.Y) has led Democrats on the House Small Business Committee since 1998, while House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has held his party’s top spot on that panel since 2005. Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) rose to being the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee in 2005. 

But some are not convinced that such a move is in the best interest of the GOP conference. 

“It’s a good way to get back at bad actors like Bennie Thompson, who definitely earned it. But I don’t see why we’d want less stale and overbearing Democrat leadership. The rule mismatch is one reason GOP leaders are younger and more responsive,” one House GOP aide told The Hill.

Younger and newer House Democrats have long expressed discontent about a lack of term limits for the party’s top officials on committees, arguing that the current system provides few opportunities for advancement and prevents new ideas from being injected into policymaking. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in 2018 that she was “sympathetic” to those concerns.

“It’s a good rule. We don’t want Democrats to have better rules,” the GOP aide said.

A rule change could also be a way for Republicans to play hardball with Democrats in response to stripping Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) of their committee assignments. 

Greene was kicked off the House Budget and Education and Labor committees over her past incendiary remarks and social media activity that appeared to endorse violence against Democrats that included liking a comment calling for Pelosi’s assassination.

Gosar was removed after he posted an animated video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

“When the Democrats voted to remove Republican members from committees, they pierced the veil and justified Republican members who want to make sure everybody’s abiding by the same rules next year,” Burchett said.

McCarthy has previously pledged to block some Democratic members from certain committee assignments as payback for Democrats removing the GOP members, including blocking Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) from the House Intelligence Committee over being targeted by an alleged Chinese spy. McCarthy also has his eye on stripping Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) of her spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee over remarks that were seen as antisemitic.

Top Republicans have had doubts in the past about the conference’s three-term rule for chairs and ranking members. In the last congressional cycle, the GOP’s term limit rule was seen as a factor that contributed to a wave of House Republican retirements from top committee members who would have been blocked from another term.

“House Republicans should allow Chairs of Committees to remain for longer than 6 years,” former President Trump tweeted in September 2019. “It forces great people, and real leaders, to leave after serving. The Dems have unlimited terms. While that has its own problems, it is a better way to go. Fewer people, in the end, will leave!” 

Shortly after that, McCarthy reportedly floated the idea of easing the conference’s term limit requirement, which might have included not counting a term as ranking member to the three-term limit. The change was ultimately not made.

Making such a change to House rules could also directly impact Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), who has reportedly been lobbying for a waiver to the term limit rule from House GOP leaders to stay the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee for a fourth term next year. 

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Kevin Brady (Texas), the only other Republican who would need a waiver to the rule to stay in his top committee slot next year, is retiring from Congress at the end of this year.

McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Tags Bennie Thompson Kevin McCarthy Nydia Velazquez Tim Burchett
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