Philip Blumel: It’s déjà vu. President Trump reiterates his Congressional term limits promise. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of August 31st, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: In the run-up to his election in 2016, President Trump pointed to congressional term limits as a priority for his first term, in fact of his first 100 days. Now, on the eve of his reelection, he is re-affirming that goal. How seriously should we take this promise? And what is Joe Biden’s response? Let’s discuss this with US Term Limits Executive Director Nick Tomboulides. Hey, Nick. Let’s Talk some Presidential politics today. We just went through the Democrat and Republican National Conventions. And the Republicans that there’s declined to ratify a new platform, they’re just gonna go with the last one, but instead the Trump campaign came out with what they call their 50 priorities for the next term in which he’s telling us what he’s planning on doing, and one of the prominent planks is “past congressional term limits.” What do you think?
Nick Tomboulides: I think this is a unique episode because we’re talking about a topic people almost never hear about, someone who is hardly ever in the news, Donald Trump.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Right.
Nick Tomboulides: This very unique. Nobody’s hearing this anywhere else. I think it’s positive, but at the same time, I would be a little bit reluctant to put too much faith in this because he has done it before. I feel like it’s a movement. It’s something we’ve seen before. It was on his First 100 Days agenda in 2016. And unless I’ve been transported to an alternate dimension, it didn’t happen in his first 100 days.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, you didn’t miss anything.
Nick Tomboulides: There was no serious push. A couple of tweets were sent out, but that was about it. So all the rhetoric we heard the first time around didn’t really amount to a hill of beans. That’s not to say he’s not serious this time, maybe he is. But I am a little bit skeptical because I feel like we’ve seen this movie before.
Philip Blumel: Well, let me play a little devil’s advocate to you then. He did, one, mention it. He actually put it as the first plank in his… I don’t know. He called it a new contract with America or something back in 2016, and he said his first 100 days, this is what he’s gonna do. And number one on that list was work on congressional term limits. Well, that’s not doing anything necessarily, but having a president come out for something is not nothing. It made the news cycle for 24 hours that he was planning on doing this, so that’s not zero. And it is true, there was very little effort made on this, but I think the most substantial thing was in 2018, he met with a group of young members of Congress, and it was a bipartisan group. It was made up of representatives Mike Gallagher, Republican from Wisconsin, Vicente Gonzalez, the Democrat from Texas, Jodey Arrington, Republican from Texas, Ro Khanna, Democrat from California, and Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican from Pennsylvania. Met with these guys on the subject of how they’re gonna try to push with congressional term limits. And then the next day, Trump came out and tweeted, that’s an action, “I recently had a terrific meeting with a bipartisan group of freshman lawmakers who feel very strongly in favor of congressional term limits. I gave them my full support and endorsement for their efforts.” Okay, true. That’s the last we heard of the subject since 2018 until this week.
Nick Tomboulides: Look, I’m gonna be the devil’s devil’s advocate. I’m gonna have my devil counter your devil here.
Philip Blumel: Okay, let’s do it.
Nick Tomboulides: Because I remember when Trump ran in 2016, he had a mantra on the campaign trail he would use all the time, he would say, “What are politicians in Washington all about? It’s all talk, no action. That’s what’s gonna make me different. I’m gonna be a man of action. We’re not just gonna talk about doing things in Washington, we’re not just gonna talk about changing things, we’re actually going to do it.” And to his credit, he has made changes in a wide spectrum of areas, some of which I think were very positive. But in the area of term limits, the administration has not led on that and they have not fulfilled that promise. And I think part of it might be that he underestimated how difficult it is to move something through the swamp in the House and the Senate. You can have a president who talks about this all day long, but ultimately, if you’re gonna do it in Washington as opposed to the states, like US Term Limits is working on, you’re gonna need Mitch McConnell, you’re gonna need Nancy Pelosi. And that’s a very uphill climb.
Philip Blumel: I would suggest to you that the only way that term limits could get through the Congress…
Nick Tomboulides: Is if an asteroid hits Washington DC and all of the current Congress members disappear and we replace them with people who know what they’re talking about.
Philip Blumel: Well, okay, barring that, the only way that we can get term limits passed through the Congress, through the congressional route, is with presidential endorsement and effort. Because true, we have McConnell running the senate who is dead set against it, we have Pelosi in the House, dead set against it. There would have to be a cry from the people that couldn’t be ignored, and it would have to be kept on the front burner by the President who is pounding his bully pulpit every day. And so the first step in doing that is to have a president that calls for it, but you’re right, the second step is to have the President actually do something about it.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And I think you could even lay out exactly what this would look like, where you have a president who is using that pulpit, who is using that leadership to kind of return this issue to the forefront. I think that would be a game changer, because as you said, look, president wields a pulpit like nobody else. They can put pressure on Congress, they can put pressure on the states. There’s been a lot of gridlock in Congress. I think that’s more likely to subside if you have an occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who is a term limit supporter. And the way I would do it, if I were the president, and obviously the President is not taking advice from me, although he definitely should, is I would for a week or two, say, maybe with the exception of coronavirus, I would say, “Look, we’re not gonna talk about any other issues except term limits. I’m gonna give a nightly address to the American people from the Oval Office about all the corruption in Congress, how these people have been lining their pockets for decades, how they’ve just been giving us decades of decades of failure, of debt, of dysfunction, of not solving a single problem that faces our country, and in the meantime, they’ve been getting rewarded for it, they’ve been getting re-elected and they’ve been lining their pockets, and we have to do something about it.”
Nick Tomboulides: I think no matter who’s in the White House, if you make that case directly to the American people, and you say, “I am pressuring, I’m calling on Mitch McConnell right now to hold a vote on a term limits amendment,” I think that would really get it done. So if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Nick Tomboulides: This week, former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, published a new term limits op-ed in The Hill, a popular magazine. Don’t let the word Illinois fool you. Pat Quinn is an outsider who has fought for term limits his entire life. In the early ’90s, he was at the forefront of a movement to term limit the state legislature of Illinois. In the last couple of years, he has led an effort to term limit the mayor of Chicago, the only one of America’s top 10 mayors who doesn’t have term limits. And finally, Quinn is sharing his views on term limits for members of Congress. In this new op-ed, he says term limits are the best way to get real campaign finance reform and take money out of politics. Quinn’s op-ed has gone gangbusters, hitting over 20,000 shares. It is one of the most popular articles on The Hill right now, getting hundreds of thousands if not millions of views. We were hoping Governor Quinn could return this week to read his op-ed on No Uncertain Terms. Unfortunately, he had other commitments to help clean up corruption in Chicago, we don’t fault him for that, so we found the next best thing. Pat Quinn’s article will be read to you by none other than our own Ken Quinn. No relation. Take it away, Ken.
Ken Quinn: A major challenge facing political reformers these days is, “How do we level the playing field and create fairer elections?” Passing real term limits on Congress would go a long way toward accomplishing this goal. By attacking the power of incumbency, term limits address the root cause of fundraising inequalities that plague our system. Fundraising power and dominance in elections come mainly from political action committees, most of which represent corporate interests. These PACs, in order to maximize their dollars, contribute reliably and excessively to congressional incumbents. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, PACs spend around $500 million each cycle on congressional races, with over 90% of those dollars flowing to incumbents instead of challengers.
Ken Quinn: Remember, incumbents get re-elected 95% of the time and tend to vote in predictable and ideological patterns. That means special interests view them as safe bets with a high return on investment. It also means most challengers don’t stand a chance. This tsunami of cash makes a mockery of our democracy. It allows congressional incumbents to stand on pedestals and say, “Don’t like me? Just vote me out,” while hoarding millions to ensure that cannot happen. It creates barriers to entry, which deny millions of smart and capable Americans the opportunity to participate in public service just because they aren’t wealthy enough to self-fund a campaign. It also reduces voter turnout because fewer people vote in elections which aren’t competitive.
Ken Quinn: The Center for Responsive Politics pegs the cost of de-throning a US House incumbent at $2.5 million. How many Americans have that kind of money just sitting around, much less in the era of global pandemics? Alternatively, how many Americans have access to well-oiled political machines which can produce millions in donations on a whim? I’ll tell you the exact number. It’s 535, the cumulative total of House and Senate members. The only proven way to end these fundraising disparities, give challengers a fighting chance and revitalize democracy is by enacting term limits. A six-year House term limit would guarantee open seat elections occur on a regular basis, which would lower the overall cost of getting elected to Congress. By weakening the power of incumbency, challengers will have the ability to compete without needing millions of dollars. We already observed this in the open races that happen now, although with no term limits, seats only open up in the event of an incumbent’s retirement, indictment or death. While it takes over $2 million to dislodge an incumbent, open seats cost far less to win. The average candidates in an open seat race raises around $600,000. Term limits are a remedy for incumbency and the money that comes along with it. By guaranteeing open seat races on a regular basis, term limits deliver a more balanced and accessible system. They stop incumbents from growing too unbeatable and keep Congress from becoming an aristocracy.
Nick Tomboulides: He’s probably gun-shy, and I would be as well, because he has stepped into a system where if you’re a Republican president, anything you say, the Democrats’ knee-jerk reaction is gonna be to hate it and to try to oppose it and to try to kill it. Conversely, if you’re a Democratic president, we saw this with Barack Obama, anything Barack Obama came out with, Republicans were the party of “No” in that case. It flip-flops, it changes, they’re always trying to obstruct each other. But term limits is the unicorn, term limits is the unique issue that everybody loves in both parties. Now, I’m talking about people here, not politicians. You’ve got conservatives at Second Amendment rallies who love term limits. You’ve got progressives at Black Lives Matter protests who like term limits. All the people love term limits, so if Trump put that on Congress, he would not be alienating anyone except for the career politicians who have been siphoning all this clout and all this cash out of their jobs for too long.
Philip Blumel: That’s a very good point. In fact, that brings up another positive thing about this announcement that he made. He’s not throwing this out there to a bunch of Republicans as red meat in order to get the nomination. He’s got the nomination. He is throwing it out there because he knows the polling, and he knows that Democrats, the super majority of Democrats, support it, a super majority of Independents support it. And he needs those Independent votes and he needs to peel away some of those Democrat votes, and he’s not gonna do it with gun control or some of these other issues that are red meat issues only on one side. It’s gonna be an issue like term limits. And to me, that says something, that a President of the United States can look at the political landscape and say, “I better be for this.”
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. Democratic voters… Make sure we clarify that, not Democratic leadership. The leadership in both parties hates term limits, the people in both parties love term limits, that’s the difference.
Philip Blumel: Right. He’s reaching out to Democratic voters. Now, and here’s another opportunity there for the President politically, is that his opposition, Joe Biden, who’s running for President against him, is opposed. And so Biden’s turning his back on Democratic voters who support term limits, and that is an opening, a political opening for the President.
Nick Tomboulides: Right. Yeah, Biden has been in Washington a long time. He knows where all the bodies are buried. When he was in the Senate from Delaware for I wanna say 38 years, he voted against term limits repeatedly every time it came up. Even running for president when he pretty much had the freedom to say whatever he wanted, he wasn’t worried about his own job in the Senate anymore, our own Ken Quinn approached him at an event in New Hampshire last year, and Biden reiterated that he is opposed to term limits, doesn’t favor it under any circumstances. We have a clip here that we’ll play. I thought it was very clever of Ken to say, “Hey, well, Joe, if you’re opposed to term limits, does that mean you don’t think the president should be term-limited?”
Ken Quinn: Mr. Vice President, I had a question to ask you. It’s in regards to term limits for Congress.
Joe Biden: No, I don’t support it because you’d be in great trouble in New Hampshire.
Ken Quinn: Why’s that?
Joe Biden: If you’re a small state, you’d get nothing.
Ken Quinn: Wouldn’t that level the playing field though for the smaller states over time?
Joe Biden: Not at all. No. Because guess what happens, it’s the number of votes that in fact you can get to get something done. Now, you’re in the middle of New York and Massachusetts and Ohio, etc, then guess what? The only way small state senators have been able to fend for their states is get seniority and be able to get something done.
Ken Quinn: And that’s a problem. That’s why I was thinking…
Joe Biden: Well, it’s not a problem if you just vote them out of office.
Ken Quinn: What about term limits on the President? Would you like to see term limits on the President removed to allow people to elect you whenever they want?
Joe Biden: No. No. Because I think the president has so much power he can abuse the power to stay in office. And I think term limits for a president is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Ken Quinn: Could Congress as well abuse that power?
Joe Biden: No, because there’s so many of them, you have a countervailing force. There’s no countervailing force to a President other than the Congress as a whole, and you see what happens when one party takes the dial.
Ken Quinn: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Nick Tomboulides: And Biden did not have a senior moment. He responded, he said, “Oh no, I agree with term limits on the president because the president can abuse his power.”
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Congress can’t, of course.
Nick Tomboulides: Okay, fair point, Joe, but doesn’t Congress abuse its power? How about the $17 million in sexual harassment payouts, secret sexual harassment payouts that Congress has done over 200 times in the last 25 years? How about the $90 billion in corporate welfare and waste that Congress is spending as pay-backs and give-aways to donors and special interests who keep them in office? If you think Congress is not abusing its power, you’re kidding yourself, but apparently that’s Joe Biden’s view.
Philip Blumel: Well, the bottom line is that Biden’s not gonna deliver on this, Trump may or may not, but he says he’s going to. I’m glad to hear it. I’d like to see that as part of the debate.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a positive development. I would also say, look, these are not the only two candidates who are running. There’s a Libertarian candidate who’s on the ballot in most states, there’s a Green Party candidate who’s on the ballot in most states. Kanye West is on the ballot in his own mind, I think, as well. And as far as we know, I think all three of those candidates support term limits. I had a conversation with the Green Party guy, Howie Hawkins, once at a convention. He said, “Yeah, I’m for term limits. The Green Party’s officially for term limits.” Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian nominee, is for term limits. And we’re under no illusion that these people are going to win, but they can play a helpful role in raising the temperature of an issue and getting activists concerned about this. Often you see that certain ideas will start out as kind of third party or fringe ideas, and then they will make their way into the mainstream. Term limits is not fringe. Politicians like to pretend it is, but I’m hoping these third-party candidates can be helpful in spreading the word as well, because our country has never been this divided, we need an issue like term limits that can unify people.
Philip Blumel: Alright, let’s finish this segment by giving the President the last word. This is a clip of the President promising to take action on congressional term limits the first time around back in 2016.
Donald Trump: But there’s another major announcement I’m going to make today as part of our pledge to drain the swamp. If I’m elected president, I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress. They’ve been talking about that for years. Decades of failure in Washington and decades of special interest dealing must and will come to an end. My interest is you. My interest is you.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. The end of the primaries is here. 45 states have had their primary elections in 2020. Over 300 congressional candidates signed the US term limits pledge. That pledge is to co-sponsor and vote for the US term limits amendment of three House terms and two Senate terms and no longer limit. And because there are two ways to amend the Constitution, we also have a pledge for state legislators. “I pledge that as a member of the state legislature, I will co-sponsor, vote for and defend the resolution applying for an Article V convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress.” Over 650 of the 1100 state legislative candidates who signed this pledge are now advancing to the general erection in November. But pledge season is not over, we are still collecting pledges from candidates and from incumbents. You can find the names of pledge signers on our website, termlimits.com, and you can find instructions on how to contact candidates in your area and ask them to sign these term limits pledges. Like our page on Facebook, and there you’ll find out about the pledge and how to get the pledge to candidates in your area. Help the movement by taking action to help us term-limit Congress.
Philip Blumel: One last thing, we had some primaries a couple weeks ago, August 18th, and we have some details from that on the Scott Tillman update this week, but I thought it was worth highlighting one victory by a term limits hero down in Florida. You know this gentleman, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes, Byron Donalds, state representative Byron Donalds in the Naples area, won a very close race to become the Republican nominee in Florida’s 19th congressional district. He will be succeeding representative Francis Rooney as Republican nominee, and Donalds is the likely favorite to win in the general election because this is an overwhelmingly Republican district. But what makes me really optimistic and hopeful about this particular win is that Byron Donalds does not just talk the talk on term limits. Sure, he signed the pledge but so did all the other candidates in the race. Byron walks the walk. When he was in the floor to legislature, he was one of our biggest allies. He was probably the most helpful person we had there. When term limits would come under attack, certain legislators wanted to repeal the eight-year limit we have in Florida, Byron always stood strong against that. When we got school board term limits passed through the state house, he was a committee chairman, he was a critical, very important voice. He showed us the ropes up there, he helped win other people over to our cause. So he is a true term limits champion in every sense of the word, and I’m very glad to see him making his way over to Congress because I think he can be a really impactful voice right off the bat.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, this was a really important race also because he’s replacing Rooney, who was the sponsor of the US term limits amendment in the US House, so it’s really crucial we kept the seat. And to replace him, who was a stalwart for term limits with a term limits activist… And I’ll say how much an activist he is too. His wife, Erica Donalds, was the Collier County School Board member who really spearheaded the effort to try to get term limits on our school boards across the state. So she and he together are a term limits dynamo, and so it’s great to get them in the US Congress.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, I remember at one point there was a parallel effort where Erica was leading the charge on term limits through the CRC, Constitution Revision Commission, and at the same time Byron was helping lead the charge in Tallahassee. And just a term limits power couple made the effort all that much stronger, so this is a great development and we look forward to working with Byron on Capitol Hill.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of No Uncertain Terms. President Trump included past congressional term limits as one of his core priorities for his second term. Let’s let him know that we support this idea and urge him to secure a vote on the US term limits amendment that is waiting for a hearing right now in the US Senate. Go to termlimits.com/Trump and ask the President to break the logjam and get a vote on SJR1. It’ll take you two minutes. Even if you’re skeptical about his commitment to this issue, let him know that. Dare him to prove you wrong by having a vote. That’s termlimits.com/Trump. Thanks. We’ll be back next week.
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In his latest campaign press release, President Donald Trump promises to pass Congressional Term Limits.
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