Tag Archives: term limits

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.


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.”

Say ‘no’ to term limits for justices

Donald J. Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court has spurred a discussion that needs to end.

It involves whether there should be term limits for Supreme Court justices.

The nation’s founders didn’t create a perfect government after the American Revolution. They got a few things wrong: Women didn’t have the right to vote; they allowed human beings to own other human beings.

They got a lot of things quite right. One of them was to establish an independent federal judiciary where judges are given lifetime jobs upon being confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that “Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour …”

There you go. If judges behave themselves and do the job to which they take an oath, they can stay for as long as they want. That holds true for Supreme Court justices especially.

Some progressives are alarmed that Trump has appointed a conservative judge to replace an iconic conservative justice, Antonin Scalia, who’s been dead for nearly a year. Let’s limit the terms of justices, they contend.

Hey, I’m on their side most of the time. Not here. The founders had this idea that judges should be free of political pressure. Thus, the lifetime appointment gives them a measure of independence to interpret the U.S. Constitution according to what they believe it tells them.


History has provided ample demonstration of that independence from judges who didn’t rule quite the way their presidential benefactors wanted. They find their own voice and serve as a check on the legislative and executive branches of government.

I see virtually nothing wrong with judges serving for the rest of their lives on the federal bench — even those with whom I disagree; and believe me, I am sure I will dislike most, if not all, of Neil Gorsuch’s rulings from the high court bench when or if he is confirmed by the Senate.

Then again, given the freedom to interpret the Constitution as broadly or narrowly as he chooses, Gorsuch could surprise us all and join the ranks of men such as Earl Warren, William Brennan, Byron White, John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun — all of whom broke with how legal experts expected them to rule.

Tough talk rises from GOP debate


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the following at the latest Republican Party presidential debate Thursday night.

Frankly, it’s a hoot.

“Mr. President, we’re not against you. We’re against your policies,” Christie said. “The American people have rejected your agenda and now you’re trying to go around it. That’s not right. It’s not constitutional. And we are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall.”

This is the guy who told a constituent to “sit down and shut up!” when the constituent — for whom Christie works in New Jersey — had the temerity to issue a critical statement at a public event. I’m trying to imagine myself telling any of the bosses for whom I worked to “sit down and shut up!”

It’s the kind of rhetoric that seems to endear him to many within the GOP.

But the idea that the Republican presidential nominee, whoever he or she is, will kick the president’s “rear end out of the White House come this fall” misses a fundamental point.

Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot. The U.S. Constitution places term limits on him. The 22nd Amendment says a president can be elected twice to the office. That’s it. Two and out, man.

Barack Obama was elected in 2008, winning 365 electoral votes while capturing more than 10 million more popular votes than Republican nominee Sen. John McCain; he was re-elected in 2012 with 332 electoral votes, while defeating GOP nominee Mitt Romney by nearly 5 million popular votes. He needed 270 electoral votes to win both times. His Electoral College majorities in both elections were substantial.

So, have “the American people rejected” the president’s agenda?

Seems to me — and I’m just tossing this out from the Flyover Country peanut gallery — that the president’s agenda played pretty well in the past two presidential elections.

The president is going to leave the White House a year from now on his own terms. He isn’t going to get his rear end “kicked out” of the place.

However, the tough talk that Christie — not to mention the other GOP hopefuls who debated the other night — sounds good to those who want to hear it.

If only it were true.


“Four more years!” for Obama?

There can be no doubt about this: Barack Obama’s critics went ballistic when the president said he could win a third term in the White House if he had the chance to seek it.

He reminded his hosts in Ethiopia today that the U.S. Constitution prohibits him from seeking another term. But then he said he’s been a “good president” and well might win in 2016.


Ah, yes. And he’d say anything about it if he thought he’d lose? Hardly.

The 22nd Amendment was enacted in 1947, spearheaded by a Republican congressional majority that was alarmed by the four elections won by Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They feared an “imperial presidency.” An earlier Democrat, Grover Cleveland, sought the office over the course of three consecutive elections, but lost his bid for re-election to a second consecutive term in 1888; he would come back four years later and be elected to a second term.

I am not at all thrilled about the term-limits provision for presidents, although I understand that the stress of the office has persuaded almost all the men who’ve held the office to bow out after a second term.

Still, Barack Obama isn’t the only recent president to look wistfully at the possibility of a third term.

Republican President Ronald Reagan said as much as his second term came to an end in January 1989. Twelve years after that, Democratic President Bill Clinton also mused aloud over whether he could win a third term.

I don’t recall President George W. Bush ever broaching the subject in public, given that the economy was collapsing when he left office in January 2009.

Whatever the motive for bringing it up this time, President Obama well might have been talking way past his audience in Africa and sticking it in the ear of his foes back home.

I’m quite sure they heard him … loud and clear.

No term limits, please

Harry Reid’s announcement that he’s retiring from the U.S. Senate is going to prompt the predictable calls for term limits for members of Congress.

I’ve heard some yammering from my network of social media friends.

Many of them favor term limits, thinking apparently that voters of various states and congressional districts aren’t smart enough to determine whether their elected representatives are doing a good job for them.

One of my pals — who I am certain echoes the views of others on the right — thinks Sen. John McCain, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and probably dozens of other congresspeople need to hit the road right along with Reid.

My friend is mistaken.

Republican bomb-thrower Newt Gingrich led the revolutionary Contract With America insurgency in 1994. Republicans took control of both congressional chambers, Gingrich became speaker of the House and Congress sought to limit the terms of its members. It has failed every time.

The one aspect of term limits that I favor has been enacted by the GOP House caucus, which limits the number of terms that House members can serve as committee chairs; Democrats ought to follow suit, but that’s a congressional rules decision.

Voters back home — including those in Nevada who’ve kept sending the Democrat Reid back to the Senate — have the right to decide who they want representing their interests in Washington.

Harry Reid did that for Nevadans. He’s now calling it a career. Good for him.

Term limits? We have them already. They’re called “elections.”


Democrats tilting toward form of term limits

My views on mandated term limits for members of Congress are firmly established.

I don’t like the idea. Heck, I am wavering on whether term limits for presidents is such a great idea.

But the House of Representatives Democratic caucus is leaning more and more toward an idea that Republicans have adopted, which is term limits for committee chairs and ranking members.

I am warming up to that idea.


A growing number of House Democrats believe their Republican friends have outflanked them on the notion of injecting new leadership into the congressional ranks.

It’s critical to point out that Republicans run the House with a strong majority that was made even stronger after the 2014 midterm elections. The Democratic reform would involve the placement of top-ranking Democrats on these panels.

Politico reports: “Former Caucus Chairman John Larson, who was term-limited from that slot in 2013, agreed. He praised House Republicans’ six-year limit for people to serve atop committees, although Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has allowed some exceptions.

“’A number of people would say Republicans have struck a better formula for advancement,’ the Connecticut Democrat said. “And I don’t think it’s a bad thing for leadership at all. I mean, it’s verboten to say it, but it’s true and I think even our current leaders would recognize it, all of whom I support.’”

Each party makes its own rules that govern how they do business internally. Republicans have for several years instituted this term-limit rule for its own leadership. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, would in theory surrender his chairmanship after three more terms in the House, unless the speaker grants an exemption.

It’s a way to freshen each committee’s agenda, its leadership style and its focus — while preserving voters’ intentions back home of continuing to be represented by individuals they have re-elected to Congress.

Despite my dislike for term limits, these internal changes make sense to me.

Go for it, House Democrats.

Congress too mean even for John Dingell

When John Dingell says that life in Congress has become too much to handle, then you know things have gone badly.

Rep. Dingell, D-Mich., is the longest-serving member in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Today he announced he is retiring at the end of his umpteenth term.


For 58 years Dingell has been serving the people of his House district.

I’m trying to think if there has been a more cantankerous member of the House then Dingell. One name comes to mind: the late Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, who served for 40 years before losing his seat in the landmark 1994 Contract with America GOP sweep of both houses of Congress. “Sweet Ol’ Brooks,” which he called himself, was my congressman and we had, shall we say, a checkered relationship during the years I covered him while working for the paper on the Gulf Coast.

Dingell is at once a poster for and against term limits. He made congressional service his career, which term limits proponents say runs counter to the Founders’ wishes. Then again, the folks in his Michigan congressional district thought enough of him to keep re-electing over the course of 50-plus years.

“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” Dingell said. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

So, another longtime veteran is calling it a career. When this man says public service in Washington has become “obnoxious,” then you’d better break out the gas masks.

Presidential term limits need to go

Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University, says it well.

Let’s repeal the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

He wants to allow presidents to serve as long as the public can stand them.


His Washington Post essay lays out the case quite well. As one who opposes congressional term limits, I understand where Professor Zimmerman is coming from. Term limits already exist, in the form of elections.

Only one president ever has been elected more than twice consecutively: Franklin D. Roosevelt won a third term in 1940. He was elected to a fourth term in 1944, but died shortly after taking the oath in early 1945. His cousin Teddy was the first president to seek a third term. He served two terms consecutively after becoming president in 1901, after President William McKinley was murdered. He was elected in his own right in 1904, then walked away in 1909. He sought the presidency in 1912 as the Bull Moose candidate, but the office went to Woodrow Wilson.

Zimmerman takes note of President Obama’s low poll standing. It’s highly unlikely, at this moment at least, that he would be elected to a third term if he had the chance. Indeed, most presidents burn out after two terms. President Reagan lamented late in his second term that he would have liked the chance to run again. President Clinton said much the same thing near the end of his presidency.

The 22nd Amendment was enacted in 1947 by a Republican-controlled Congress to head off what some feared would be an imperial presidency. They didn’t like that FDR served seemingly forever. But he was the voters’ choice — four elections in a row!

As Zimmerman notes, even the Father of Our Country, George Washington, disliked the idea of term limits. “I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the service of any man who, in some great emergency, shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public,” Washington wrote to Marquis de Lafayette, according to Zimmerman.

Let these people serve until the voters say otherwise.

Term limits for all … but not for himself?

I recently chided members of Congress who have kept getting paid while other federal employees are having to take unpaid leave — all because Congress’s actions have resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government.

I included my own member of Congress, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, as a target of chiding. He’s still getting paid.

My criticism drew some response from blogosphere friends, a couple of whom took the argument a bit farther, suggesting that Thornberry shouldn’t even be in office at this moment, given that he ran for the House of Representatives the first time in 1994 while supporting the Contract With America, which included — among many other items — term limits for members of Congress.

I feel the need to respond to that criticism on Thornberry’s behalf.

To be clear, I am not a huge fan politically of my congressman — although I like him personally and consider him to be smart and an articulate advocate for his philosophical view of government.

Thornberry never took the pledge to limit himself to the amount of time he would serve in Congress. He espoused his support for the Contract With America, which was the brainchild of the leader of the 1994 GOP revolution, Rep. Newt Gingrich, who parlayed his party’s capturing of Congress into the House speakership. Thornberry has voted every time in favor of the term limits measure every time it’s come to the floor of the House. But because the legislation comes in the form of a constitutional amendment, it requires two-thirds of the House to approve it; the measure has fallen short every time.

Still, Thornberry is on the record as supporting it.

One of my blogosphere pals questioned my giving Thornberry a pass, suggesting that he should be more faithful to the CWA simply by taking the pledge to step aside after three terms, which the term-limits plank in the CWA provided.

This issue has dogged Thornberry ever since he took office, although the size of his re-election victories in every contested election — and there haven’t been that many of them — suggests that most voters are giving him a pass on it, too.

I have continued to maintain that Thornberry played the issue smartly when he ran the first time. Yes, he might have split a few hairs by supporting the CWA while declining to limit himself to three terms in office. Others in that congressional class of ’94 took the pledge, only to renege on it years later. Thornberry saved himself the embarrassment of trying to explain why he might have second thoughts.

As for lawmakers — including Thornberry — getting paid while fed staffers are being denied their income, well, that’s another matter. That should provide enough of an embarrassment all by itself.