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 PelosiRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Pelosi blasts Trump's 'dangerous' pick for intelligence chief 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 Perlmutter2019 was a historic year for marijuana law reform — here's why Impeachment surprise: Bills Congress could actually pass in 2020 Financial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more 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 MengNew travel ban reflects Trump administration's discriminatory intent China sentences former Interpol president to more than 13 years for bribery Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack 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 HuffmanOvernight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge House Democrats urge banks to not fund drilling in Arctic refuge America needs a transformative transportation bill: It will take walking and biking to get there 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 JeffriesLawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts On The Money: Fed chief warns Congress on deficits | Trump blames Powell after Dow dips slightly | Trump withdraws nomination of former US attorney for Treasury post Jeffries: Trump budget is a 'declaration of war on the American dream' 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 TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration 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 HoyerHouse to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime Pelosi's staff huddles with aides in both parties on 'surprise' medical billing House panel approves bill to grant DC statehood 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 ClayLawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny Maloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman 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."