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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 PelosiTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 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 RichmondBottom line Biden pledges action on guns amid resistance Congressional Black Caucus to push aggressive agenda 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 JohnsonHouse panels underscore vaccine obstacles for minority groups House Democrat says the COVID-19 vaccination distribution is 'not an issue that should be tainted with politics' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden seeks vaccine for all by summer; Trump censure? MORE (D-Texas), who will chair the Science, Space and Technology Committee, and Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersLawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds 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 LeeLawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds MORE (D-Calif.) and Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Six ways to visualize a divided America Lobbying world 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 ScottNASA names headquarters building after agency's first Black female engineer House Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Full COVID recovery requires raising the minimum wage MORE (Va.), of the Education and the Workforce Committee; Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation NAACP president accuses Trump of having operated under 'white supremacist doctrine' Lawmakers blame SolarWinds hack on 'collective failure' to prioritize cybersecurity MORE (Miss.), of the Homeland Security Committee; and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse Democrats reintroduce bill to reduce lobbyist influence Trump voters and progressives have a lot in common — and Biden can unite them We must act on lowering cost of prescription drugs 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 HoyerHouse set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package Key Democrat unveils plan to restore limited earmarks Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission 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 PerlmutterColorado governor, spouse test positive for COVID-19 Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview 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.”