Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal

The Democratic fight over leadership term limits rattled the top tiers of the party brass on Tuesday, with Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats headed for a subpoena showdown with White House Election security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate New storm rises over Kavanaugh MORE (Md.) hammering the proposal and disassociating himself from House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Democrats will 'certainly' beat Trump in 2020 Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (Calif.), who is considering the caps as she looks to secure enough support to become Speaker.

“She’s not negotiating for me,” Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said tersely during a press briefing in the Capitol.

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His comments underscore the divisions emerging between Democratic leaders and other factions of the caucus as Pelosi seeks to win over some of her detractors before a Jan. 3 floor vote for Speaker.

The discord revealed itself in animated fashion during a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol basement Tuesday morning, when both sides made their case on the question of whether the party should adopt term limits for chairmanships and leadership posts.

Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Appetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (Colo.) argued in support of term limits, according to several lawmakers in the room. But he faced a long list of opponents who stood up for the preservation of the limitless system.

The opposition is particularly pronounced within the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), whose members are poised to lead a handful of powerful committees next year. CBC leaders suggested there’s a racial element behind the effort to limit chairmanships.

“Generally for African-Americans, the frustrating thing is every time we get to the point where we’re making significant progress, the rules change,” Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondElection security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks Looking for electability in all the wrong places MORE (D-La.), the outgoing CBC chairman, told The Hill.

Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassCBC marks 400th anniversary of slaves' arrival in US Senate could protect girls from sexual exploitation — but will it? King incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks MORE (D-Calif.), the incoming CBC chairwoman said the limits will only divide Democrats when they should be united heading into their new majority.

“We have so much work to do. [Republicans] have not governed over the last two years — that needs to be our priority,” Bass said. “We don’t need to take up an issue that’s going to cause us to have conflict between each other.”

Pelosi, 78, has been in talks with members of an insurgent group of lawmakers, including Perlmutter, about ensuring a transition to a younger generation of Democratic leaders.

Those talks have centered on the adoption of term limits for both committee heads and leadership posts — changes to which Pelosi says she is “sympathetic.”

Yet the proposal has drawn howls from other powerful voices within the caucus, including Hoyer and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House. Both panned the proposal, with Hoyer saying the concept is inherently undemocratic.

“I am against term limits because I have a term limit. It’s a two-year term limit. And every [cycle], the citizens that I represent and the members in this House have to re-up my contract,” Hoyer said. “So I am for the intellect of the voter, whether it’s my constituency or my colleagues, being able to operate without such a constraint and choose whom they want, when they want for leadership or representation.”

“I think there’s a lot of discussion about” the proposal, Hoyer, 79, said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

The remarks highlight the fact that, while Pelosi is negotiating rules changes with her critics, it will be up to the entire Democratic caucus to adopt them.

Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn, 78, have been in the top three posts for more than a decade.

“It’s conceptual right now, but there are definitely some conceptual opinions,” said Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiThe Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? House committee launches investigation into Transportation Secretary Chao Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill MORE (Ill.) “Without more details and an actual proposal, it’s hard to really have a structured discussion about this.”

Although there was no resolution to the term-limit debate at Tuesday’s caucus meeting, both sides have agreed to strip any term-limit language from a House rules package — which must be adopted by Jan. 3 — and resume the debate at a later, unspecified time.

The decision to push the debate beyond Jan. 3 would effectively divorce the term-limit discussion from the fight over Pelosi’s future at the top of the party.

“There was an agreement there that separates it from everything else,” said Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksTen notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington House Democrat knocks Trump's Cummings tweet: 'This guy is a terrible, terrible human being' MORE (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the CBC. “It’s not part of this leadership race.”

That would mark a shift from the initial push from some of Pelosi’s critics, who were hoping to squeeze concessions from her as a condition of supporting her Speakership bid.

Rep. James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernHouse Democrats officially introduce contempt resolution for Barr, McGahn After setbacks, some House Democrats want to repeal a longstanding minority party right Sanders, Warren meet ahead of potential 2020 bids MORE (D-Mass.), the incoming chairman of the Rules Committee, said a subsequent debate on the issue is inevitable, but he suggested it would be “ridiculous” to think it could happen before Jan. 3.

“I think everybody now realizes you can’t avoid this discussion on term limits and you can’t kick the can down the road forever. There has to be a moment where people have this discussion [and] make their case,” McGovern said. “And whatever the caucus decides is what we’ll do.”

Pelosi can lose as many as 17 Democrats in the Speaker vote and still secure the gavel, but there are roughly 20 detractors — including a handful of incoming freshmen — who are vowing to oppose her.

By supporting term limits, Pelosi may be able to pick up some additional support. But she also risks losing some of her backers, particularly within the CBC.

“This is the proverbial pressure on the balloon: You push one end and you get a bubble on the other end,” said Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindPelosi woos progressives on prescription drug pricing plan Protect American patients and innovation from a harmful MedTech Tax increase We should repeal the medical device tax on veterans MORE (D-Wis.), who has vowed to oppose Pelosi on the floor.

The push for term limits is an extension of the broader effort by a restive group of newer members to gain more power within a caucus that’s been led by Pelosi since 2003. The reformers argue the need “to keep the blood circulating” with fresh faces and new ideas, in the words of Kind.

Others who were once receptive to term limits have had a change of heart after a few years in the Capitol.

“When I first got here, I was all about term limits. Having gathered some seniority, I have a different view,” said Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban House Dems up funding for science agencies, ignoring proposed Trump cuts MORE (D-Pa.), who was elected last month to his fourth term.

Seniority, Cartwright added, is “a way of providing for institutional memory, and not having to reinvent the wheel all the time.”

The timing of the eventual debate over term limits will fall largely to Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesLewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Democrats face key moment on impeachment drive MORE (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Jeffries on Tuesday outlined the process, to begin with his appointment of a new leader of the Democrats’ internal rules committee, which is soon to be vacated by Bass. Jeffries said he would name that person “shortly,” and the committee would then hear arguments on both sides of the term-limit debate.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on it one way or the other, because we’ll also need to engage the entire caucus of the 116th Congress to have that discussion,” he said. “And that’s not something we can do until everyone reassembles in January.”