Tag Archives: term limits

Term limits for SCOTUS? Really, Sen. Booker?

Cory Booker needs to take a breath.

The U.S. senator from New Jersey and one of dozens (or so it seems) of Democrats running for president has pitched a notion of setting term limits for members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

C’mon, senator. Get a grip here!

The founders had it right when they established a federal judiciary that allows judges to serve for the rest of their lives. Lifetime appointments provides judges — and that includes SCOTUS justices — the opportunity to rule on the basis of their own view of the Constitution and it frees them from undue political pressure.

Sen. Booker is a serious man. I get that. He has an Ivy League law degree and is a one-time Rhodes scholar.

He’s also running for a political office in the midst of a heavily crowded field and is seeking to put some daylight between himself and the rest of the Democrats seeking to succeed Donald Trump as president.

Term limits for SCOTUS justices isn’t the way to do it.

We don’t need term limits for members of Congress, either. My view is that lifetime appointments for the federal judiciary has worked well since the founding of the Republic. There is no need to change the system based largely on a knee-jerk response to the current political climate.

John Dingell: RIP, dean of the House

I predict that after a certain amount of time has passed that some congressional critics are going to suggest that the late John Dingell was the embodiment of the need to impose limits on the terms of members of Congress.

I would argue that John Dingell embodied instead the best argument against such a restriction.

Dingell, a Democrat, served his Michigan congressional district for 59 years, the longest continual service in the history of the House of Representatives. He succeeded his father, who died in office. When he left office, Dingell turned it over to his wife, Debbie, who’s in the office at this moment.

Dingell served alongside every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama.

What is most remarkable about Dingell is that he accomplished so much while serving in the House. He was far from just a placeholder, a backbench bomb-thrower.

He was a former board member of the National Rifle Association, he helped champion environmental legislation, he was a friend of labor, he sought to elevate government oversight in Congress, he supported civil rights legislation and turned against the Vietnam War in 1971.

What we need to understand about Dingell’s nearly six decades in the House is that the voters who kept re-electing him were satisfied with the representation he gave them. Had he run off the rails at any time during his lengthy time in the House voters would have taken matters into their own hands. They would have booted him out. They chose instead to keep John Dingell on the job.

Therefore, I stand by the assertion that Rep. Dingell is a testament against a foolish and unnecessary restriction on members of Congress.

Wondering if term limits will return to debate stage

With all the hoo-hah in Washington about the battle of ideologies — conservative vs. liberal — I am wondering about the fate of the debate over term limits.

In 1994, Republicans led by U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, campaigned successfully on the Contract With America platform that included a silly proposition: to limit the terms of members of Congress.

Voters seemed to buy into the notion that we ought to place mandatory limits on the time House members and senators can serve. After all, we limit the president to two elected terms, thanks to the 22nd Amendment. Why not demand the same thing of Congress members?

Well, the idea hasn’t gone anywhere. It requires an amendment to the Constitution. Referring an amendment to the states for their ratification requires a two-thirds vote in both congressional chambers. Term limits proposals haven’t made the grade.

Term limits is primarily a Republican-led initiative. Democrats have dug in against the idea, saying correctly that “we already have term limits. We call them ‘elections.'”

I don’t favor mandatory limits. Indeed, there has been a significant churn of House members and senators already without the mandated limits. The new Congress comprises roughly a membership that includes roughly 25 percent of first-time officeholders. That ain’t bad, man!

Sure, there are deep-rooted incumbents from both parties who make legislating their life’s calling. However, I only can refer back to their constituents: If these lawmakers are doing a poor job, their constituents have it within their power to boot them out; if the constituents are happy with their lawmakers’ performance, they are entitled to keep them on the job.

Of course, we don’t hear much from the nation’s Republican in Chief, the president of the United States, about term limits. He’s too busy “making America great again” and fighting for The Wall. He can’t be bothered with anything as mundane and pedestrian as establishing limits for the amount of time lawmakers can serve.

But where are the GOP fire starters? Have they lost their interest? Or their nerve?

I’m fine with the idea remaining dormant. Just wondering whether it’s died a much-needed death.

Term limits for congressional leaders? Why not?

I dislike the idea of term limits for members of Congress.

However, the idea of imposing such limits on congressional leaders is another matter. To that end, the next speaker of the House of Representatives is on to something constructive.

Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democratic caucus, has agreed to serve only two terms as speaker once she takes the gavel in January. She is set to favor a vote among congressional Democrats to impose similar limits on committee chairs, following the lead set by their Republican colleagues.

Pelosi getting push back

I like the notion of imposing those limits on leadership, despite my aversion to mandatory limits on the number of terms House members can serve on Capitol Hill. I have said all along that we already have limits on terms; they occur in the House every two years and every six years for senators. The 2018 midterm election demonstrated quite vividly the power of the electorate to give incumbents the boot.

Congressional leaders, though, aren’t necessarily beholden to the voters for the power they obtain in the halls of Congress. They are beholden to their fellow lawmakers.

Why not enact mandatory regular changes in committee chairmanships — as well as the speaker of the House?

It’s a good call from the new speaker.

Balance of power shifting in Texas delegation

Here’s a thought or two to consider, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texans who have occupied a lot of chairmanships in the U.S. House of Representatives might be set to bail on the House in the wake of the newfound status as the minority party in the lower congressional chamber.

Buried in the Tribune story analyzing that development is a mention of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, who might “make the upcoming term his last.”

That’s according to “many Republican operatives” on Capitol Hill, reports the Tribune.

Read the story here

Thornberry won’t be able to serve as “ranking minority member” of Armed Services; GOP rules mandate that he is term-limited out of that rank. So he’ll become just one of the gang of GOP members serving on the panel.

I have a special “bond” of sorts with Thornberry. He took office in the House in early January 1995, in the same week I reported for duty as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I covered his congressional career regularly until I left the paper in August 2012. He and I developed a good professional relationship.

I rarely agree with his voting record while representing the sprawling 13th Congressional District, although my position at the newspaper required me to write editorials supporting him, given the paper’s longstanding conservative editorial policy.

And, to be fair, Thornberry has been pilloried unfairly over his more than two decades in office because of the term limits issue. He was elected in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” team of GOP insurgents. The CWA called for term limits for members of Congress. Thornberry never pledged to limit his own service to three consecutive terms, but he did vote to approve it when the House considered it.

He took office in 1995. It’s now 2018. Twenty-three years after becoming a freshman member of the House, Mac Thornberry is about to become a former chairman of a key congressional committee. The Republican majority is set to become the GOP minority. That, according to the Texas Tribune, might be enough to send Thornberry packing and returning to the Texas Panhandle in 2021.

Yep, elections do have consequences. We’re about to see one of those consequences occur on the new day that is about to dawn over Capitol Hill.

Jeff Flake: profile in courage

Jeff Flake’s demonstration of political courage almost made me rethink my long-standing opposition to term limits for members of Congress.

I’ll reiterate: almost.

Flake is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that on Friday recommended the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court. Flake is not running for re-election this year. Thus, his lame-duck status has enabled him to grow a pair of, um, stones that he otherwise likely wouldn’t have grown.

You see, Flake — after announcing his decision to support Kavanaugh’s nomination — came back to the committee hearing room and asked that the Senate delay a full confirmation vote for a week to allow the FBI to do an additional investigation into some serious allegations leveled against Kavanaugh.

Christine Blasey Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her. They were teenagers when the even allegedly occurred. She presented a compelling case against Kavanaugh. Ford persuaded me that her allegation is credible enough to disqualify Kavanaugh from obtaining this lifetime judicial appointment.

Flake was cornered in a Capitol Building elevator by two women — sexual assault survivors, apparently — who demanded that he “listen” to the concerns of other victims.

Flake responded by making his request of the Senate. The Senate agreed. The president then called on the FBI to conduct a limited probe into the allegations. It should take about a week or so to complete.

I applaud Sen. Flake for his political courage, although the courage is watered down a bit by the fact that he isn’t facing Arizona voters this fall. He is free, therefore, to speak from his heart. He did so.

If only other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives could demonstrate such guts when they have to face the voters as they seek re-election.

Having said all that, I remain committed to the notion that voters in each state and House district have it within their power to boot out scoundrels at election time.

Flake, though, must have emerged as a GOP hero in this ongoing — and terribly frustrating — political battle of wills.

Term limit movement might have taken a big hit

I feel compelled to offer a word about term limits and the notion that we ought to restrict the length of time people can serve in Congress.

I’ll provide a name that suggests that we already have term limits: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The 28-year-old New York City community activist knocked off a 10-term Democratic incumbent, Joe Crowley, in Tuesday’s primary election. Crowley was thought to be on the fast track to serious congressional leadership and power.

He is now on a faster track toward private life. Why? He wasn’t doing the job to his constituents’ satisfaction. So they acted. With their votes. Crowley is a goner.

Term limits? We’ve already got ’em, man!

Let us revisit ‘term limits’

The calls for mandating term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate have become a bit muted in recent years.

That’s fine with me. I’ve never quite understood the notion of requiring public servants to step aside after a certain set time established through federal statute or constitutional amendment.

The issue keeps recurring every so often. It well might again in the 2018 midterm election that will decide every one of 435 U.S. House seats and one-third of the seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate.

I dug up a 2013 article in USA Today that noted that the 113th Congress was the most “inexperienced” in nearly two decades.

As USA Today noted about that Congress: A confluence of factors — from a trio of wave elections, redistricting, divisive primaries to even death — kick off a 113th Congress populated by junior lawmakers in both chambers that challenges the conventional wisdom that Washington politics is dominated by entrenched incumbents.

Nearly two in five lawmakers in the U.S. House, 39%, have served for less than three years, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Cook Political Report. It’s the least experienced House since at least 1995, when an election wave swept the Republicans into power.

Read the rest of the USA Today article here.

That was just four years ago. The turnover on Capitol Hill has continued at about the same pace.

It brings to mind the Congress that took office in 1995. The election the previous year had swept out dozens of incumbents as the Republican insurgents took control of both legislative houses for the first time in 40 years. One of the upstart freshmen that year was a young self-described “recovering lawyer” named Mac Thornberry, who became the Texas Panhandle’s representative.

Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, is still in the House. He campaigned as a champion of the Contract With America, the GOP platform that pledged a lot of radical changes. One of them was mandated term limits. Thornberry never imposed any such limit on himself; he has voted in favor of every failed attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to require term limits for members of Congress.

Frankly, I’ve never faulted him for remaining in Congress all this time … even though I detest his general governing philosophy.

Indeed, any member of Congress who does a lousy job or who doesn’t represent his constituents’ interests will hear from them on Election Day. The voters have the power to impose their own brand of term limits on their elected representatives.

Moreover, is inexperience a good thing when it comes to running the federal government? Hmm. Let me think about that.

Oh, yeah. We’ve got a political novice in the White House at this very moment. The president took office after spending his entire professional life seeking to fatten his financial portfolio. He had zero public service experience before taking office. He is learning a hard lesson that governing isn’t nearly the same as running a business empire.

I believe, therefore, that government experience is vital.

The upcoming midterm election is going to turn on a lot of factors. Term limits might return as a top-drawer political issue. Fine. Let’s have that debate. I likely won’t budge from my long-held belief that we already have term limits. We call them “elections.”

***

Here’s what I wrote five years ago about this very issue:

Term limits? We already have them

 

Call this guy a promise-breaker

That darn Markwayne Mullin. He said he’d serve just three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then bow out.

So, what does the Oklahoma Republican do? He reneges on his pledge. He’s going to run for a fourth term. Term limits? Who needs ’em, right Rep. Mullin?

Actually, since I don’t believe in mandated term limits, I’m not all that worked up about Mullin’s decision to try once again to be elected to his House seat.

There’s a certain irony, though, attached to this announcement.

One is that Mullin made a foolish pledge in the first place. He says he was so frustrated serving in Congress during the Barack Obama administration that he now wants to serve during the time Donald Trump is president. He thinks he can get more done while Trump is president.

The foolishness of the pledge reminds me of how many of the 1994 Contract With America class of congressmen and women promised to serve a limited number of terms. Some of them kept that pledge, others took it back. I think of former Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington state, who defeated House Speaker Tom Foley in arguably the biggest upset of the 1994 election. Nethercutt vowed to serve three terms and then he pulled it back. He eventually gave up his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Washington; his broken promise became an issue and he lost that campaign.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, from right here in the Texas Panhandle, also was elected that year. He has voted in favor of proposed constitutional amendments limiting lawmakers’ terms. He just never made the pledge for himself. He’s still in office — 22 years later!

Back to Markwayne Mullin. This clown also declared during a town hall meeting earlier this year that the public doesn’t pay his salary. Huh? Yep. He said he pays his own way to serve in Congress.

Umm. No, young man. Not true! The public pays your salary, your office staff’s salary, and all the perks associated with your office. Why, even I have a stake in your salary, even though I am not one of your constituents.

So, my hunch is that the voters of his Oklahoma congressional district just might invoke their version of term limits — by kicking his rear end out of office next year.

“We understand that people are going to be upset. And we get that. We understand it,” Mullin said. “I’m not hiding from that. Because we did say we were going to serve six years.”

There might be a lesson here. Which is that certain campaign promises are not to be treated like something you can just toss out when you get a change of heart.

Where are all the tributes to Sen. Byrd?

We drove through a good bit of West Virginia and all along the way I kept looking for signs of a legendary U.S. senator’s penchant for pork-barrel legislation.

We saw barely a trace of it.

I refer to the late Robert Byrd, the king of pork barrel spending. You know, of course, that the term “pork barrel” defines money dumped into legislation that is meant to benefit a legislator’s district or state.

Byrd was the “best of the best” at funneling public money to his home state of West Virginia. I noted his pork-barrel proficiency in a previous blog post.

Robert Byrd, D-Pork Barrel

As we motored along Interstate I-64, I kept waiting to see evidence of this or that bridge or stretch of highway named after Sen. Byrd. I found a bridge with the Byrd name attached to it in Charleston — which also honors another famous native son, a guy named Gen. Chuck Yeager, the man of the “Right Stuff” and supersonic flight.

Oh, I’m sure there must be many myriad public buildings, parks, city streets and rural roads with Sen. Byrd’s name attached to them.

He wasn’t bashful about his lust for luring money to his home state. What the heck. Why should he care? His constituents kept sending back to Washington to do precisely what he did.

Term limits? I look at it this way: If West Virginians were dismayed at how Byrd represented them in Congress, they had the option of removing him from office. They call them “elections.”