Appetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out

Appetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out
© Greg Nash

Eight months after a schismatic fight over the faces of Democratic leadership, the push to install term limits for the top party brass may have fizzled out.

While instating tenure caps for the caucus's top leaders was a central promise from Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy urges Democrats to pull surveillance bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter How lawmaker ties helped shape Fed chairman's COVID-19 response MORE (D-Calif.) following the 2018 midterms — a promise that won over enough of Pelosi's Democratic detractors to secure her the gavel — some of the leading proponents of that change said they've moved on and won't press the issue.

Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterFor safety and economic recovery, Congress must prioritize cannabis banking Eight surprises in House Democrats' T coronavirus relief bill Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief MORE (D-Colo.), an early Pelosi critic who had led the charge for term limits, said Thursday that he's ready to drop the effort entirely.

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"We're just letting it sit. We talked about it a week or so ago, decided [we] didn't want to push it before … this break. And we'll see when it comes up, but I'm not pushing it very hard," Perlmutter said as he was leaving the Capitol for the long August recess. "It's just where I am."

Asked if he's ready to abandon the idea altogether, Perlmutter was terse.

"Yes, I am," he said.

Perlmutter is a member of the Democrats' committee on caucus procedures, which has debated the term-limit issue periodically since Democrats took control of the House at the start of the year.

Rep. Grace MengGrace MengDe Blasio, John Cho, Rep. Grace Meng unite for event to fight racism against Asian Americans NY Democrats call for mortgage forgiveness in next coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Experts worry U.S. elections vulnerable due to COVID-19 | Report finds states need more federal election funds | Republican senators to introduce coronavirus-related privacy bill MORE (D-N.Y.), who chairs the committee, said Thursday that the issue is "still on the table for discussion." But she said Perlmutter also communicated to her that he's not insisting on a vote, as he had earlier in the year.

Several other members of the committee also said the enthusiasm for such a reform has largely dissipated, suggesting there would ultimately be no vote on the measure. Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Overnight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, characterized the issue as "in a deep freeze."

That was hardly the case at the turn of the year, when a number of restive Democrats — eager for new faces atop the party and new opportunities to break into the leadership ranks — were committed to staging a vote to install term limits at the highest ranks.

Amid that fight, a handful of Democrats who'd initially opposed Pelosi's Speakership bid ultimately supported her in return for several concessions designed to disseminate power more broadly throughout the caucus while setting the stage for a changing of the guard at the top of the party. Leadership term limits were a central component of those internal reforms.

Perlmutter's proposal would have capped the tenure of the top three leaders at three terms, with the option of a fourth if the candidate could win support of two-thirds of the caucus. The limits would apply retroactively, meaning Pelosi’s initial stint as Speaker from 2007 to 2011 would count as two of the maximum four terms.

Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesTara Reade's attorney asks Biden to authorize search of his Senate papers Tara Reade represented by well-known lawyer, Trump campaign donor Pelosi seeks to wrangle caucus behind next COVID-19 bill MORE (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, had promised an internal vote on the proposal in February. The government shutdown, which ran into the middle of that month, delayed the process. It's only lost steam since then.

Part of the waning interest seems to stem from Pelosi's performance since taking the gavel in January. Democrats of all stripes have given her high marks for managing a diverse and divisive caucus through a series of high-stakes legislative battles while proving a tough and effective foil to President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE in the White House.

Another factor seems to be the simple passage of time: As the days tick closer to the 2020 elections, the appetite to bring up a divisive issue within the caucus is dissolving.

"She's just been, in my opinion, outstanding," Perlmutter said. "And I just think we're all kind of still finding our place in our caucus. So I don't think we need to be mixing stuff up."

The effort, however, might not be dead. While Perlmutter was among the most vocal proponents of the term-limit reform, other lawmakers in the group of early Pelosi detractors may still press the issue when Congress returns to Washington in September.

Perlmutter emphasized that he was speaking only for himself.

"We've all got to sit down and come to some kind of conclusion as a group," Perlmutter said, referring to the group of rebels who eventually backed Pelosi. "But I'm just telling you that I'm not pushing it very hard."

And Meng noted that any Democratic lawmaker, not just a member of her procedures committee, can press for internal reform votes.

"My job is to be there and listen to all the members. And so it would be up to a member like [Perlmutter] if someone wanted to bring it up," Meng said.

"Anyone can bring up an amendment," she added, "and no one's brought it up with me in recent times."

The referendum, if it does surface, would rehash the prickly, post-midterm debate that pit those lawmakers seeking fresh faces and ideas in the highest ranks versus others wary of banishing the most seasoned lawmakers and undermining the democratic process that's long governed the caucus.

While Pelosi committed verbally to capping her own leadership tenure — and voting to enshrine the same limits on her top lieutenants — both Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerLawmakers urge Trump to cancel DC's July 4 event: 'Impossible to put on safely' McCarthy urges Democrats to pull surveillance bill Pelosi blasts House Republicans over lawsuit to halt proxy voting: 'Sad stunt' MORE (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) oppose such a rule. And a long list of rank-and-file members, most notably those in the Congressional Black Caucus, argue that term limits are an arbitrary, and undemocratic, way to choose party leaders.

"Particularly in the Black Caucus, term limits do us a disservice," Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence visits Orlando as all 50 states reopen The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin, Powell: Economy may need more boost; Trump defends malaria drug Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice MORE (D-Mo.) said earlier in the year. "It's just, philosophically, I'm opposed to it.

"We have built in term limits every two years."