Younger lawmakers ignite new push for term limits
Freshman lawmakers have revived the push for congressional term limits, hoping to spark action on a long-stalled idea on Capitol Hill.
A bipartisan group of young members, led by rising GOP star and freshman Rep. Mike Gallagher (Wis.), took the cause directly to the president during a White House meeting last week, where they received President Trump’s full-throated endorsement.
While the first-term lawmakers acknowledge they may face fierce resistance from the old guard in Washington, they think the issue is something that will resonate with a younger generation of voters.
“People are hungry for a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C. I certainly saw that in my campaign, where my youth, far from being a hindrance, was an asset,” said Gallagher, 34, in a telephone interview.
“My dad worked at the same company for 30 years. There was a different mentality toward work and jobs,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), 41, told The Hill. “Now you have millennials and people who are going to have seven, eight, 10 jobs in their careers. It’s a different approach to work.”
“We just have a sense of doing different things,” Khanna added, “and I think that is something culturally that may bring support for term limits.”
The calls to impose term limits on members of Congress are hardly new, having been endorsed by the class of Republicans elected in the “revolution” of 1994. But the idea has gained newfound support from a band of lawmakers in the freshman class, including Gallagher, Khanna, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) and Vicente González (D-Texas.).
The lawmakers, all 50 years old or younger, support limiting senators to two terms and representatives to six terms, for a total of 12 years each. They say the proposal will help fix a broken political system and ensure that new blood and fresh ideas are regularly injected into Congress.
Under their proposal, the new system would be grandfathered in so that it wouldn’t apply to any sitting members of Congress, except for the freshman class.
“We’ve been trying to draw attention it,” said Gallagher, who has been writing op-eds, discussing the idea with his colleagues and talking to White House officials over the last several months. “Finally, we were able to get a meeting with the president.”
With the help of Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close ally of Trump’s, the lawmakers secured an Oval Office meeting last week, where they were able to pitch their ideas, get on the same page and identify potential hurdles.
Trump, who has long supported term limits as part of his pledge to “drain the swamp,” was quick to give the group his stamp of approval. The president especially liked the idea of having the caps phased in over time, said lawmakers who attended the meeting.
“I recently had a terrific meeting with a bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers who feel very strongly in favor of Congressional term limits,” Trump tweeted this week. “I gave them my full support and endorsement for their efforts. #DrainTheSwamp.”
Members also said that the president appreciated the group’s enthusiasm and was excited that it included members of both parties.
“These are issues you can talk about with hardcore [Sen.] Bernie Sanders [I-Vt.] progressives and hardcore conservatives, and everyone starts speaking the same language,” Gallagher said.
While some of the freshman members have already introduced bills to cap the number of terms that lawmakers can serve, Trump directed the group to rally behind a single legislative package.
The group said its goal is to put something together that combines all their insights and present it to the White House in the coming weeks. They all agree on the length of the term limits, but still need to settle on language to phase them in.
“We have consensus among our group right now, so we’re hoping in the next couple weeks here that we can march forward into phase two,” Gallagher said.
But even with presidential backing, the plan faces an uphill battle on Capitol Hill.
Imposing term limits requires a constitutional amendment — a rare and immensely difficult task that requires two-thirds support from both the House and Senate, as well as ratification by the states.
There are also critics of term limits who warn that they erode institutional knowledge, effectively empowering lobbyists and staffers who have been in Washington longer.
Some veteran lawmakers are adamantly opposed to term limits, even supporting legislation to eliminate the current cap on the president’s tenure in the White House.
“Ideologically, I’m very much opposed to term limits,” said one House Democratic lawmaker. “I think the whole thing is crazy. There shouldn’t be a term limit for the president, there shouldn’t be term limits [for Congress]. Only because I think the people speak, you know? We have an election process. Why would does there have to be a term limit on any office? I don’t believe in it.”
Khanna, however, hopes that a provision phasing in the term limits — while having them apply to the freshman class — will help chip away at some of the opposition.
“There would be resistance if it weren’t grandfathered in, for sure,” he said. “I think it gives us credibility with people that we’re willing to do it on ourselves, and I think it shows respect and understanding for colleagues who have been operating under a particular system.”
The other concern among critics is that term limits would unfairly force out minority members who have fought their way into leadership positions during years of service.
But Khanna said higher turnover could actually create more opportunities for diverse candidates to serve in Congress.
“Term limits worked really well in my state in the state assembly. It’s led to more people of color, more women and more young people getting the opportunity to serve,” Khanna said. “So that really is something I believe would be good at a federal level.”
— Mike Lillis contributed.