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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 PelosiYoung Turks founder on Democratic establishment: 'They lie nonstop' Hillicon Valley: Senate unanimously confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar | Scrutiny mounts on Microsoft's surveillance technology | Senators unveil bill to crack down on cyber criminals 'It's still a BFD': Democrats applaud ruling upholding ObamaCare 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 PerlmutterDemocrats urge Biden to take executive action on assault-style firearms Colorado governor, spouse test positive for COVID-19 Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 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 MengHouse sends anti-Asian hate bill to Biden's desk Senate locks in hate crimes deal, setting up Thursday passage Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing 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 HuffmanSafe and ethical seafood on the menu this Congress Modernizing transportation can help tackle the climate crisis Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' 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 JeffriesDemocrats seek staffer salary boost to compete with K Street Congress tiptoes back to normality post-pandemic White House to Democrats: Get ready to go it alone on infrastructure 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 TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC 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 HoyerBiden signs Juneteenth bill: 'Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments' House passes political spending, climate change corporate disclosures bill House to vote Wednesday on making Juneteenth a federal holiday 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 ClayLobbying world Ex-Rep. Clay joins law and lobbying firm Pillsbury Liberal advocacy group stirs debate, discomfort with primary challenges 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."