Black Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) on Thursday threw cold water on a Democratic proposal to limit the tenure of committee chairmanships, just hours after House Majority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate McConnell predicts no shutdown: Trump 'flexible' on border deal Ocasio-Cortez had highest percentage of small donors in midterms: report MORE (D-Calif.) said she is open to the idea.

“I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s awful timing, and I think it’s a hell of a reward for all these chairmen who went out there traveling the country and busting their behinds to get Democrats elected,” Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondDeGette dropped from chief deputy whip spot Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Hoyer bucks Pelosi over term limits: 'She's not negotiating for me' MORE (D-La.) said by phone.

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Richmond, who’s led the CBC for the past two years, said he’s spoken to several African-American lawmakers in line to take committee gavels in the next Congress, and he says they’re all asking the same question: “Why every time something’s established and we start doing well in the system, they want to change the rules?”

“And I share that concern with my committee chairmen,” he continued. “I think it would be unfortunate for the caucus to engage in something like this after a election cycle where we were unified. Why divide the caucus?

“I think this would have long-term implications.”

A number of CBC members are in line to lead powerful committees next year. The list includes two women: Reps. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonK Street works to court minority lawmakers Black Caucus huddles as talk of term limits heats up The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda MORE (D-Texas), who will chair the Science, Space and Technology Committee, and Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersFive challenges facing new consumer bureau chief Democrats must stand up for Israel The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda MORE (D-Calif.), who is poised to lead the Financial Services Committee.

Many members of the CBC, Richmond included, feel that African-American women were snubbed during last month’s Democratic leadership elections. Although two female CBC members ran for leadership posts — Reps. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOcasio-Cortez eyeing Jeffries as 2020 target: report McConnell’s marijuana conundrum: Cory Gardner Democrats must stand up for Israel MORE (D-Calif.) and Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellDeGette dropped from chief deputy whip spot Black Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits Dems vow quick action to bolster voting rights upon taking power MORE (D-Ala.) — they both lost their races to male challengers. Richmond said piling committee term limits on top of those losses would be another slight to the African-American women “who are the backbone of this party.”

“Why would I subject Eddie Bernice Johnson or Maxine Waters to a vote of a caucus that has never elected an African-American woman?” he asked. “If people wanted to talk about this, we should have talked about this before the leadership elections, so that people would have to defend it during the leadership elections.”

Other members of the CBC poised to take gavels next year are Reps. Bobby ScottRobert (Bobby) Cortez ScottThe results are in: How the nation voted on criminal justice issues that impact our youth Overnight Health Care: House set to vote on bill targeting drug companies for overcharging Medicaid | Dems press Trump officials on pre-existing conditions | Tobacco giant invests .8B in Canadian marijuana grower A new Congress, time for a new focus on public education MORE (Va.), of the Education and the Workforce Committee; Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDems, celebs push movement to #LogOutFacebook Facebook under fire from civil rights groups Dems demand probe into death of 7-year-old in DHS custody MORE (Miss.), of the Homeland Security Committee; and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsLeading contenders emerge to replace Zinke as Interior secretary Comey rips Trump, GOP over 'lying' Incoming House Oversight Committee chairman: First hearing will not be 'what a lot of people expect' MORE (Md.), of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

At issue is the question of whether the Democrats should revise long-standing rules within their caucus to place caps on the number of years an individual lawmaker can remain at the top of a given committee.

Republicans have long-supported a system of term limits for committee chairs and ranking members, arguing the importance of promoting fresh faces and ideas within the legislative process. Democrats, by contrast, have broadly opposed such limits, citing the need to reward experience and seniority.

Pelosi, who was Speaker between 2007 and 2011, said Thursday that she had tried to install committee term limits when she took the gavel a dozen years ago. “But the Caucus did not support that,” she told reporters in the Capitol.

More than a decade later, Pelosi is fighting to return to the Speaker’s chair in the face of a small group of insurgent Democrats scrambling to block her path. In an effort to build support, she’s promising to overhaul both the rules of the caucus and those governing the full House — proposals being cobbled together by incoming Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who’s been fielding ideas from rank-and-file members for months.

The notion of limiting chairmanships, Pelosi said, “has received much interest” during the solicitation process. But the ultimate fate of that proposal, Pelosi emphasized, will be for the full caucus to decide.

“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.”

Yet other Democratic leaders, including Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTrump finds himself isolated in shutdown fight Pelosi gets her swagger on Term limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority MORE (D-Md.), the incoming majority leader, oppose term limits.

Richmond did not rule out the possibility that he could be convinced to support a reform proposal that somehow adopted term limits on committees without eroding the seniority system the CBC has long endorsed. But he doubted such a balance exists.

“The system would hurt the seniority system, which we’re adamant supporters of. And … maybe in a wild scenario you might be able to draw up a system that does not [hurt the seniority system]. But I can’t think of it,” he said. “This is not something that I would support.”

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He wondered why committee chairs are being singled out, noting the absence of proposals to apply term limits to A-committee membership, leadership posts and Congressional careers, in general.

“Why go pick on committee chairs? Is it to make one little group of people happy?” Richmond asked.

Pelosi, as she races to solidify support for her leadership bid, reportedly spoke Tuesday with one of her most vocal critics, Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterTerm limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority Pelosi agrees to term limits vote; insurgency collapses Tim Ryan backs term limits deal with Pelosi MORE (D-Colo.). Perlmutter’s office did not respond to questions Wednesday, but that discussion touched on the issue of committee term limits, HuffPost reported.

Such negotiations have rubbed Richmond and many CBC members the wrong way. The insurgents, Richmond charged, put themselves out so far on a limb opposing Pelosi that they’re now struggling to find ways to support her.

“Just say you had a change of heart, but don’t go trying to find hollow victories, or create other chaos, so that you can justify it,” Richmond said of the Pelosi critics.

"The goalposts keep changing, but I don’t see how this all of a sudden gets them to supporting somebody who they’ve said they just didn’t think was right [for the job],” he continued. “So you go inflict term limits on the committee chairmen, because you don’t have faith in the leadership?

“That’s just stupid.”

House Democrats will huddle next week to discuss their proposed rules changes. Pelosi suggested adopting the new term limits to apply immediately in the next Congress could be a challenge, given that the incoming freshmen — who will have a voice in the debate — have wrapped up their D.C. orientation and are headed home.

“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 [sooner]?” Pelosi said Thursday. “Or they may reject it. I don’t know.”

Richmond predicted that, if new limits on chairmanships came up for a caucus vote, some members of the CBC would support it. But those members, he said, will likely be in the minority.

“Our caucus is well-positioned to deal with it,” Richmond said. “I’m sure we won’t be unanimous on it, but I’m sure we’ll have a lively discussion, and I’m sure that a majority of our caucus is going to oppose it.”