INTRO MUSIC : “Creep” by Radiohead
Philip Blumel: There’s movement in Missouri plus a career politician wants to cap off is 46-year stint in Washington with a new gig, the U.S. presidency. And what’s up with Andrew Yang? I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement, for the week of April 29, 2019.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Let’s see if we can fill in some of the blanks in these stories with U.S. Term Limits executive director, Nick Tomboulides. Hey Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hey Phil.
Philip Blumel: So, Joe Biden has thrown his hat into the race for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States and so naturally that makes a term limits activist wonder, where does Senator Joe Biden stand on our issue? Does he have a record?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, it’s quite the guessing game to figure out whether a guy who served in the Senate from 1973 through 2009 is a term limit supporter or not. Thirty-six years in the Senate, I’m really not sure where he stands on this.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you what, it actually came up the other day. There’s been questions about his age. He’ll be 77 years old at the time of the Democratic Convention, and so it’s a serious issue and he concedes it’s a reasonable question to ask. But he was asked about whether there should actually be age limits or term limits and he said basically, well, I think that although this is a serious issue, that the answer comes when voters go to vote at the ballot box on both age limits and term limits. Meaning that of course not that voters should decide at the ballot box whether term limits should be imposed, but instead on whether or not they should elect him. So that gives you an idea where he stands. Outside of that it’s been really hard to track down any rhetoric from him on the issue in all the years he’s been in office.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And part of the part of the shrewdness of being a career politician is deliberately avoiding conversations about term limits and avoiding opportunities to be asked about it because they don’t want to get caught on the record opposing an 82% issue. There were votes in 1990s on this.
Philip Blumel: That’s right. And he was around.
Nick Tomboulides: There was actually a vote in 1996 when he was in the Senate. He had been in the Senate for 23 years at that point. There was a vote for cloture on a term limits amendment. It was sponsored by Fred Thompson of Tennessee and the Senate was voting whether to limit the debate and move congressional term limits forward. Joe Biden was against that. Joe Biden was against term limits, he voted against it. He voted to keep a filibuster alive so that term limits could never see the light of day in the Senate.
Philip Blumel: Okay, so we have a recorded vote from Senator Joe Biden against Congressional term limits.
Nick Tomboulides: Exactly.
Philip Blumel: Oh boy. And to set some context for this, 1996, now this was in the period where term limits had been imposed by voters via the initiative process. And of course in 1995 we had the Supreme Court case, U.S. Term Limits versus Thornton, which basically threw out those term limits. So this was the front page issue that everyone was talking about, that everyone was writing about, that everyone was thinking about. So when we had our chance, the best chance that we’ve had so far to achieve congressional term limits, Joe Biden voted against it. And obviously with the remarks this week, we can see that he’s not changed his mind on the issue.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And it’s not like he couldn’t have voted for it because he had been in the Senate for so long. Strom Thurmond, who I think first got elected to political office in 1933 and by 1996 had been in the Senate for 40 years, actually voted for term limits, believe it or not. So one of the poster children for term limits voted for it. Any career politician has the opportunity to wise up, do the right thing and vote for term limits, but sometimes their own self pride gets the best of them and they just can’t bring themselves to do it.
Philip Blumel: And you’re assuming that Strom actually was aware of the fact that he was voting for term limits at the time?
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. It’s possible he just fell asleep and his hand happened to hit the button accidentally.
Philip Blumel: Or a staffer did it for him. No, no. Let’s give him the credit for this. He voted the right way on it. And this was the time for a statesman to rise up, put their self interest aside and act on what clearly the public wanted, that they expressed in a zillion ways, including not just polls but referenda in 23 states. And against all of that support from the people, Joe Biden, along with a very slim majority of the Senate, voted against the people and voted for their own pocket books, for their own careers.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and he was very close to being a deciding vote as well. It only failed, the cloture motion on this to bring term limits forward, only failed by two votes, so if Biden and one other person had voted differently, if they had supported it, that might’ve changed the trajectory of this and changed the course of history perhaps if this had actually moved forward in the Senate.
Maxine Waters: Thank you. Today there are more than 44 million Americans that owe … This is student loan crisis. 1.56 trillion in student loan debt. Last month, this committee received testimony that last year, 1 million student loan borrowers defaulted. What are you guys doing to help us with the student loan debt? Who would like to answer first? Mr. Monahan, big bank.
Mr. Monahan: We stopped making student loans in 2007 or so.
Maxine Waters: Oh, so you don’t do it anymore. Mr. Corbat?
Mr. Corbat: We exited student lending in 2009.
Maxine Waters: Mr. Dimon?
Mr. Dimon: When the government took over student lending in 2010 or so, we stopped doing all student lending.
Maxine Waters: Thank you, my time is up.
Philip Blumel: That was House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters, who entertained us last week with some petulant haranguing of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. This week’s clip is from early April when she was attempting to grandstand on the issue of exploding student loan debt, accusing a lineup of big bank CEO’s for the problem. Facing her in a line where Brian Monahan, Bank of America, referred to as “big bank” by Waters, as well as Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon. Waters, who has been in Congress since 1990 and has taken the reins of the House Financial Services Committee largely as a function of her tenure, clearly has no idea that private banks have not been in the student loan business for a long time.
Philip Blumel: Before 2010, private banks issued federally guaranteed student loans that were backed by the government if they weren’t repaid. But starting in 2010, the Obama Administration fully nationalized student loans, which today are all issued directly by the federal government. But you can’t suggest that Chairperson Waters has not learned anything in her 46 years of politics. Notice how deftly she changed the subject once she realized she didn’t know what she was talking about.
Philip Blumel: Another presidential candidate from the Democratic side that we’ve talked about a little bit before positively, Andrew Yang from California, he’d made some noise about term limits in the past being a good thing and making some positive noise about it, but then he made these comments just recently.
Speaker 9: What is your opinion of term limits for all congressional positions?
Andrew Yang: Okay, so first we need to have term limits for Supreme Court justices yesterday. Lifetime appointments might’ve made sense at one point, but they make no sense now. The fact that we have to get worried if an 80-year-old justice has a health problem, I mean, that’s no way to run a country. So term limits for Supreme Court justices, both parties should be able to agree on that. Now, term limits for congresspeople, I like, but the fact is if you had constant turnover in the Congress, then there’d be very little institutional knowledge. It’d be hard for new congresspeople to organize all the time and it might be harder to get things done. So if you’re going to create term limits in Congress, you would want to make it a little bit longer in time, so at least there’s some seniority that builds up. But I do think having people crouching in D.C. for decades is probably not good for our society.
Philip Blumel: So what do you think, Nick? Is he a term limits supporter?
Nick Tomboulides: It sounds like he’s backtracking on us.
Philip Blumel: It sounds like he’s backtracking. It sure does.
Nick Tomboulides: I’ve always thought of Andrew Yang as someone who’s a little bit more apolitical. He’s a venture capitalist, he’s never held elected office before. A lot of his ideas, you can’t put on one part of the political spectrum or the other. But when he first emerged out on the scene, he was a big term limits guy. He would tweet about it, he would talk about it, he would share stuff about how power corrupts and how power rots your brain. There’s some scientific studies that show power actually causes brain damage if you hold onto it for too long. And so Andrew Yang seemed very sympathetic to the cause, but it sounds based on these latest comments like someone has gotten to him, someone from inside the beltway.
Philip Blumel: That’s the exact impression I have.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. An insider is giving him these talking points about the value of experience in Congress. And my response to that is if experience were valuable in Congress, why is Congress the most experienced we’ve ever had and it’s a dumpster fire. Don’t you think at some point all this experience in Congress, 30, 40, 50 year members of Congress, something would have born fruit for us at this point? We’re $22 trillion in debt. Our country’s more divided than ever before. We have massive-
Philip Blumel: Clearly experience is important but it’s not the only value and it’s trumped by many others. And one of them is the ability to put your own self interest aside and do some work for the American people rather than yourself. Also to be a goal oriented person and that goal can’t be just to get reelected. It has to be to achieve something in government, something good. And you’re right, I feel like that someone got to him. In fact, he says in this clip explicitly that he supports the idea of congressional term limits, so I guess he’s a supporter. But then he makes a argument basically that we hear all the time from term limits opponents and doesn’t apply. It just doesn’t apply.
Nick Tomboulides: The first thing he did was pivot to Supreme Court term limits or age limits. It’s a very hot issue right now. I of course support doing that. I would ask our listeners to decide whether there would be a conversation about Supreme Court term limits right now within Democratic circles if Donald Trump hadn’t just picked two new young Supreme Court judges. That’s up for them to determine. But it’s just the fact that he kind of skirted the question on congressional term limits and said what we need is more legislative experience, I can’t believe that.
Nick Tomboulides: We’re big believers in experience here, but we acknowledge that there’s no topic Congress discusses which did not first originate outside of Congress in the real world. Whether it is healthcare, education, banking, business, regulation. Experience in those fields, in those areas does not come from squatting in Washington D.C. for decades on end. It comes from actually working in those areas of expertise, and that’s what we need more of in Congress.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with U.S. Term Limits. We ask candidates for state legislature to sign a pledge to help us get congressional term limits. The pledge reads, “I pledge that as a member of the state legislature, I will cosponsor and vote for the resolution applying for an Article V convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress.” There are only a few states having legislative elections in 2019. We currently have 14 candidates in Mississippi, three candidates in Louisiana, one candidate in Virginia and two other candidates in special elections who have signed this pledge to support congressional term limits from the state legislature. If you have access to a candidate, please ask them to sign our pledge. Pledges are available at termlimits.org
Philip Blumel: Three states so far have officially applied for an Article V amendment proposing convention specifically limited to the issue of congressional term limits. These are Florida, Alabama and Missouri. In Arizona and Georgia, convention bills are still alive, having passed one chamber this year and are waiting for the other chamber’s vote. In addition to the three where term limit convention bills have passed, 11 other states have called for an amendment V convention, addressing multiple issues, but specifically including term limits. The states are leading the charge for congressional term limits where Congress refuses to act. Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig is amongst the most prominent proponents of using an Article V amendment proposing convention in the country.
Philip Blumel: While not specifically focused on term limits, Lessig sees Congress as corrupt and unrepresentative, and the Article V convention as the only method available to reform it. Lessig spoke at the Wolf-PAC Warrior Workshop in 2018.
Larry Lessig: What we believe is that we need this change in the basic frame of our government and a change not controlled by Congress. Because what we believe in this movement is that we believe Congress is the problem. Congress is the institution that has allowed the corruption of this democracy to evolve. And that’s something people on the left believe and people on the right belief. This is what unites us and why we are here in an Article V movement. The failed branch of our government is the institution we have to find a way to fix and that fact is a huge problem for the reform movement.
Larry Lessig: Congress in our constitution is essentially untouchable. The institution is untouchable because we don’t elect a Congress, we elect members to Congress. And what that means is in our voting, there is no one who we elect with the means or the motive to fix Congress directly. This piece in February, 2016 describes this platform put together by a group of “reform groups” as it’s described in the article. Efforts are being undertaken in state legislatures to pass resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to send various constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. If these efforts are successful, it would result in the nation’s first constitutional convention since 1787 convention that adopted the Constitution. It would also create the opportunity for a runaway convention that could rewrite any constitutional rights or protection currently available to American citizens.
Larry Lessig: This is conventional wisdom? No. This is conventional ignorance in American politics today. This is what both sides believe. What I think we’re trying to do is to call the convention spoken of in the plain language of this really hard to read document. A convention for proposing amendments. It’s a convention for a particular purpose and that purpose defines its limits. Indeed, Article V goes on to describe expressly that whatever this convention does has no power until it is ratified by 3/4 of the states. So this language, this power created by the Constitution is something fundamentally different from what the framers of our Constitution were doing. They were giving us a power for proposing amendments, a power limited by the express terms of Article V.
Philip Blumel: A bit of news this week is the progress of a bill in Missouri. We haven’t been talking too much about this, but it’s also quite important. And this is a bill that would put eight year term limits on a list of state positions that aren’t currently covered by eight year term limits in Missouri. Now of course they have eight year term limits on their legislature and they have eight year term limits on their governor and lieutenant governor, but there are several positions that they don’t. And so this is going to extend it to the rest of those positions.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. Missouri is a national leader in term limits. Obviously they have had eight is enough for a long time now. They passed the term limits convention in 2018, but they are one of the few states where the entire slate of state constitutional officers is not term limited. It’s actually rare to see a state where the governor has term limits, but some of the other constitutional officers do not. Basically what the senator Tony Luetkemeyer said was let’s put everybody on a level playing field. Eight years works well for the legislature, let’s not fix what’s not broken. And so it has passed and the voters will get a chance to decide it. I think it will get 75, 80% support, possibly higher.
Philip Blumel: Right. It passed in the Missouri Senate so far, 31 to 3. That’s a ringing endorsement of it. Naturally, of course a bipartisan vote. It would put eight year term limits on the secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, and it is going through the House and I guess we’re waiting on one more House committee before it goes to the floor. So we’re excited about that. It looks like it could be another chance for voters across an entire state to endorse once again, eight year term limits, which I think will be helpful because where we really all want to see it is on Congress.
Nick Tomboulides: And Luetkemeyer deserves special recognition for this. He’s sort of like a very rare breed. He’s like a political unicorn. He’s the politician who actually made a promise and once he was elected he kept it. During the campaign last year he signed two U.S term limits pledges, one saying that he would protect Missouri’s eight year term limits, do everything he could on that front, and another one saying that he would fight for term limits on Congress and all other positions. It’s just great to see a guy who’s gotten elected and is keeping his word to the voters and leading on this front.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I saw on his campaign website in his issues column, it’s very strong support for term limits at all levels of government, so that was great. Good work by Tony Luetkemeyer and Missouri and we’ll keep reporting on this issue as well.
Nick Tomboulides: If you’d like to help Tony Luetkemeyer pass term limits for all the statewide officials in Missouri, go to termlimits.com on the current actions list. This is only for people who live in Missouri. Check that out. You can send a message to your law makers. Once it’s on the ballot officially, this will become a campaign to secure a yes vote and we’re going to need volunteers and helpers to make that a reality. Termlimits.com, current actions, Missouri term limits.
Philip Blumel: Nick, you mentioned earlier in the podcast about Supreme Court term limits and that’s not something we’ve really talked about much here, but maybe we should do so. What do you think?
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. It’s emerging as one of the biggest debate topics in our country and I think on next week’s podcast that should be one of our core focuses.
Philip Blumel: Okay. It’s a date.
Nate Wadsworth: Hey, I’m Nate Wadsworth, State Representative from Oxford County District 70, and I totally support the Term Limits convention. I’ve sponsored at the main House twice. I’m looking forward to sponsoring again this spring and we just need to do it. 75% of the American people believe in term limits while Congress’ ratings is only at 11%. It’s completely broken and it’s time for term limits on Congress.
Philip Blumel: Well that’s it for another weekly edition of No Uncertain Terms. We have live bills in Arizona, Florida, and Missouri, and if you live in one of those, please take action. Go to termlimits.com and look under the current actions tab for your state. These actions are quick, easy, and vitally important. It’s also important to subscribe to our podcast. We’re available on several platforms, including the iPhone podcast app, Stitcher, Google Play, iTunes.
Philip Blumel: The number of presidential candidates is growing and soon you’re going to run into one asking for your vote. Be prepared to ask them how they stand on congressional term limits and how they might help in getting them enacted. Then let us know and we’ll report your findings on a future podcast. We’ll be back next Monday.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have the No Uncertain Terms podcast.
Speaker 15: Can I talk about how Biden is creeping up slowly behind the American voter and sniffing our hair hair and whispering sweet nothings into our ears? Sweet, sweet nothings…
MUSIC CREDITS – Full versions of the music sampled during this podcast may be purchased via iTunes at the following links :
“Creep” by Radiohead, “Gimme Some Truth” as performed by Generation X (originally written by John Lennon), “Street Hassle” by Lou Reed
The “No Uncertain Terms” podcast is produced by Duke Decter for U.S. Term Limits
Executive Producer Philip Blumel (President, U.S. Term Limits)