Pelosi says she's open to term limits on committee chairs

House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown MORE (Calif.) on Thursday said she’s open to term-limiting committee chairmanships, but punted the question to the broader caucus, saying it’s their decision to make.

“That’s a matter before the caucus,” Pelosi said during her weekly press briefing in the Capitol. “I’ve always been sympathetic to the concerns that have been expressed by our members on that subject.”

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Pelosi is scrambling to build support within her caucus to become Speaker next year in the face of a small but entrenched group of rank-and-file Democrats hoping to block her ascension. As part of the effort to pick off her detractors, Pelosi is vowing sweeping changes to both House rules and the internal Democratic Caucus rules heading into next year when Democrats will represent a majority in the chamber.

That overhaul is being administered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who’s in line to chair the powerful Rules Committee in the next Congress. McGovern has been fielding suggestions from members for months, and recently proposed a slate of rule changes, which will be discussed again next week, when Congress returns to Washington following a weeklong hiatus accompanying the memorial services for the late President George H.W. Bush.

Pelosi said McGovern “has received much interest” in the idea of capping the tenure of committee chairmanships — limits that have long-governed the Republicans’ committee rules but have been rejected by Democrats, who have put a premium on seniority. 

Pelosi said she’d tried to adopt such limits in 2007, when she last took the Speaker’s gavel. “But the caucus did not support that,” she said.

The seniority issue has been especially dear to leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), whose members enjoy seniority on a number of committees, and are in line to take gavels next year.

CBC Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondPelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Hoyer bucks Pelosi over term limits: 'She's not negotiating for me' Luján will have 'assistant Speaker' title MORE (D-La.) said Thursday that the group has historically been an ardent supporter of the seniority system, but could be open to supporting new term limits for committee chairs.

There are competing arguments about the wisdom of maintaining a system of limitless terms at the top of committees. Republicans, who have an established system of capping chairmanships, say the constant churn of new faces brings fresh perspectives and ideas to the legislative process.

The flip side of that, however, is that chairmen who lose their gavel may want to leave Congress altogether, depriving the institution of experienced legislators with an openness to bipartisan compromise. A number of outgoing GOP chairmen, for instance, chose to retire at the end of this year, rather than return to back-bencher status.

Pelosi, for her part, said the issue will be decided in the next few weeks, but suggested the logistics of the vote may make it difficult to adopt the changes in time for the new Congress. 

“That’s a debate for the caucus to have. And we will have that,” she said. “Whether that happens this year — you know, in the next couple weeks, because the freshmen aren’t here, and we have to have that discussion with them here, so how do we do that: teleconference or what? Or is that just something we take up next year, but could apply soon[er]? 

“Or they may reject it?” she added. “I don’t know.”