Philip Blumel: What to do about Senator Dianne Feinstein? Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limit’s Movement for the week of December 14th, 2020.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: It’s a touchy issue. Friends, staff and political allies are reporting that the memory and mental clarity of America’s oldest senator has taken a nosedive, and the 87-year-old was just reelected to the Senate again in 2018. What lessons does the sad case of Dianne Feinstein provide us regarding the seniority system in elections in the US Congress? Let’s ask Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US Term Limits. Hey, Nick.
Philip Blumel: We’re gonna talk about the case of Dianne Feinstein, the oldest senator… Yep, the oldest Senator in the US Senate. And I know that you saw the article that appeared in the New Yorker in the current issue, it’s by Jane Mayer, a friendly, this is not some rabble-rousing or fire-breathing Republican going after a Democratic senator. The fact is with Senator Feinstein, her friends, her staff, the other friendlies that were quoted in this article, although usually not by name, are talking about her deterioration over the last year or so.
Nick Tomboulides: That’s right. And as you said, it’s an article from the New Yorker, not exactly a right-wing publication. At 87, she’s the oldest member of the Senate. She spent 18 years in elected office in California before becoming a US Senator. Now she’s done 28 years in the Senate. That’s almost five decades of total power. She served with Harvey Milk. You remember that guy from the movie, Sean Penn?
Philip Blumel: Oh yeah, sure.
Nick Tomboulides: On the San Francisco City Council. He died 42 years ago. So I’m just putting this in context a little bit. But it’s touching on a sensitive subject, and that is Senator Feinstein’s mental decline, against the backdrop, I will add, of a US Senate that is the oldest in history. More octogenarians serving now than ever before.
Philip Blumel: Right. Well, this article gives many examples, and it starts out with talking about her appearance in the hearings in which senators were calling these social media CEOs to carpet, and in her exchange with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, she had a very embarrassing and cringe-worthy moment that we should revisit right now.
Dianne Feinstein: I’m not sure actually what the answer to this should be, but on November 7th, President Trump tweeted, and I quote, “I won this election by a lot.” Obviously, that’s not true, President Trump lost the election. The warning label that Twitter has applied to the tweet says, and I quote, “Official sources may not have called the race when this was tweeted.” Do you believe that label goes far enough to prevent the tweet’s harms when the tweet is still visible and not accurate?
Jack Dorsey: I do, because it’s not just the surface level label.
Dianne Feinstein: Well, let me give you a specific. On November 7, President Trump tweeted this, “I won this election by a lot.” That’s obviously not true. President Trump lost the election. The warning label the Twitter has applied to the tweet says, and I quote, “Official sources may not have called the race when this was tweeted.” Now, here’s the question, does that label do enough to prevent the tweet’s harms when the tweet is still visible and is not accurate?
Jack Dorsey: I believe it’s really important that we show people a broader context.
Nick Tomboulides: So she asked the Twitter CEO the same question twice in a row without catching her mistake. And staffers who are close to her now, who were of course unnamed staffers, who were formerly working in her office, sources close to her say she is struggling, that this is not a one-off. She can’t remember a briefing moments after she received it. She has been staring at pieces of legislation and just calling it words on a paper that make no sense. Basically the staff are doing all the work. If you recall, her driver for 20 years was revealed to be a Chinese spy. That, I think, came out last year. She didn’t notice that either. Chuck Schumer, who’s the Democratic leader, he’s had to bring help into these judiciary hearings to make sure that she doesn’t lose her place or lose control or go off the rails, and it’s a serious problem.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I understand that Schumer actually talked to her prior to her 2018 re-election about the possibility of maybe not running. A Democrat is sure to keep that seat, and it didn’t necessarily have to be her, but oh no, she wouldn’t hear of it. And apparently after having these discussions with Schumer, she doesn’t recall having these discussions with Senator Schumer. So it is painful.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, it’s especially awkward because he needs to keep having the same conversation with her over and over again because she doesn’t remember it.
Philip Blumel: And I think this is a lot different. We lambaste politicians on this podcast all the time, and that’s not what we’re doing here. I think this is actually a sad case. Losing your memory and that as you get older is part of life, she’s 87-years-old, no one will hold that against her, but why is she in the US Senate? And this, of course, has an important tie-in with the issue of term limits. But to give you some background, with people living longer, older people can do a lot more and do. In fact, the average age of corporate CEOs is going up. The average age of Nobel Prize winners in, say, science and other major scientific disciplines is going up. Throughout society, the average age is going up because we can do a lot more. And so we’re not suggesting that someone that is older can’t be an able legislator or anything else, but here’s the difference. In society generally, in a competitive situation, you don’t get a Nobel Prize winner because of your age, you get it because of the quality of the work. If you’re a CEO of a major company, you don’t get hired or fired based on your age. It depends. Are you being successful in achieving the aims of the organization? The difficulty here is with the Senate, with the US Congress, that’s not the way it works.
Nick Tomboulides: Right. Yeah, there was a quote from a staffer in here and they said, “Anyone who’s tried to take the car keys away from an elderly relative knows how hard it can be. But in this case, it’s not just a car, it’s about the US Senate.” And so it’s calling into question the seniority system itself. And you’ve got a lot of younger members who are incensed. They’re saying the seniority system keeps people like Feinstein in power, it’s undermining the effectiveness of the Senate. Just one quote in this article was ridiculous. It says Sheldon Whitehouse, who at 65 is considered a younger member of the Senate, is vying for a committee chairmanship. It reminds me of something Harry Truman said back when presidential term limits had been proposed by Congress in the late ’40s, early ’50s. Harry Truman wrote a letter to Congress saying, “Why don’t you guys include term limits for Congress as well? Because senility and seniority are both terrible legislative diseases.” I think we’re learning right now how damaging those diseases can be when they’re occurring in the same time at the same person.
Philip Blumel: Right. We talked last week about an age limit that they have in the Senate in Canada where you’re not qualified to run again if you’re older than 75, which would mean, that 14 members of the US Senate, under Canadian rules, would not be eligible to run again, and she wouldn’t have either. And we wouldn’t have had to have this painful conversation with her saying, “Look, you can’t run.” Or with Grassley. He’s just almost as old as Dianne Feinstein. He refused to say that he won’t. Anyway, so we have this issue in our Senate, and the reason why is super important to understand. They can run and run again, and the presumption of their victory is unquestioned. Nobody’s gonna beat Dianne Feinstein. She wasn’t of total sound mind when she won her 2018 election and everyone knew it. The point is that the money came in, the interests that can depend on her came to her support, and that she didn’t have serious opposition. The usual incumbent advantages that mean that an incumbent running for their own seat is gonna win and is gonna win again, and is gonna win again. And it doesn’t matter what their output is, it doesn’t matter how well they’re doing the job, it doesn’t mater if they can do their job, and it doesn’t matter if they know they’re doing their job, or ever having remembered doing their job, they’re gonna win.
Philip Blumel: And so you have these senior members who have the top positions because of seniority that can’t lose elections. And so you have a problem that doesn’t happen in the aging population, that doesn’t happen in other fields where you have competition and people making decisions based on merit. Because it’s politics, because it’s incumbent advantage, because we don’t have term limits, is why we have this issue in the US Senate.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s like a Weekend at Bernie’s situation. Dianne Feinstein, by the way, her most recent term began in 2019, and she will serve, if she doesn’t retire first or step down, she will serve through 2024 through the age of 91. My gut tells me this situation is not going to get better any time soon, unless we act to pass term limits.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. Well, I wish her well, but the system needs fixing.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the national field director with US Term Limits. Going into 2020, we’re going to have more signers in office than ever before, thanks to your help. There’s going to be at least 94 signers in Congress, 76 in the House, and one more that is yet to be finished recounting, 18 in the Senate and potentially two more, depending on how the Georgia Senate run-off elections go. In the state legislatures, we’ll have over 670 seated members who have signed. 565 of those members just won election. In January, new resolutions will be introduced into the US House and Senate. We present each pledge signer with a plaque to remind them of their commitment to their voters with their term limits pledge. We’ll be working over the next several months to present Congressional members with these plaques. We also present plaques to state legislators who signed the pledge to support term limits with state resolutions. When constituents come with us to present these plaques, it helps to bolster the legislator’s commitment to term limits, and legislators love to get their picture taken with constituents while they accept the plaque. If you’re willing to help present plaques to legislators, please reach out to us on our Facebook pages, or you can call or text us at 321-345-7455. That’s 321-345-7455 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s email@example.com. Thank you.
Nick Tomboulides: Marco Rubio, a senator from our home state, has made an announcement. He will be seeking a third term in the Senate, which is fascinating because he had initially said he would only serve one term in the Senate and then it became two, then it became three, but his critics are alleging that he is violating his term limits pledge.
Philip Blumel: What?
Nick Tomboulides: Which he’s violating his commitment to the US Term Limits Amendment of two terms in the Senate and no longer limit. What say you, Philip?
Philip Blumel: Well, we have a copy of that pledge, which he signed, it’s at termlimits.com. And it’s not a pledge to self-limit. It specifically says that the signer commits to co-sponsoring and voting for a Congressional Term Limits Amendment, and he has done that. He is a co-sponsor and has spoken in favor of it, and he gets an A rating from US Term Limits on our legislative scorecard on our website. I think it’s an unfair attack on him to say that he’s broken the pledge, when he’s not broken the pledge.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a little bit of a tough concept to digest sometimes, but when you think about it, there is really no interconnection at all between how many terms a member of Congress has already served, and what types of term limits that they’re calling for via constitutional amendments. They are two different things, because when a member of the Senate like Rubio stands up and says, “I support a constitutional amendment,” he is saying, “I want to demolish the seniority system. I want term limits for everybody, and I believe term limits will only be effective once they apply to all members.” But until that happens, until that amendment is proposed and ratified, seniority will still rule the day in Washington, DC. So my take on this is, I have never begrudged anyone, I’ve never held a grudge against anyone for remaining in Washington while fighting for term limits.
Philip Blumel: I agree fully, and I think that Rubio should be appreciated for signing the pledge and for living up to the pledge and not attacked for it, especially in this underhanded manner. Now, had he made a self-limit, when you mentioned before how he said he was only gonna run one term, he was suggesting that that was gonna happen, but he did not make that pledge. He didn’t go to the voters and say, “If you elect me, I’m only gonna run for one term.”
Nick Tomboulides: That’s right, I stand corrected. Yes, it was more of a prediction rather than a promise.
Philip Blumel: Like, “I don’t know, I don’t see myself running for a second term,” or whatever. Or in his case, remember, he wanted to not run for a second term because he wanted to run for president. And then he decided, “No, I’m gonna go back to the Senate,” when his presidential ambitions weren’t working out. He lived up to what he pledged and he’s a good fighter for term limits in the US Senate.
Nick Tomboulides: Okay, I stand corrected. Sometimes I let my mercilessness toward politicians get the best of me. [laughter] I’m sure our audience understands that. And think about this, we’re trying to get as many votes in Congress for term limits as possible. Of course, we are not putting all our eggs in that basket, we’re also pursuing the Article Five amendment convention to put pressure on Congress and to allow the states to take the driver’s seat here. But in terms of building support in Congress, don’t we want as many co-sponsors we can possibly get? Are we going to turn someone away because of some detail about their own service in Congress that’s totally irrelevant to the constitutional amendment? I don’t think so. If you go back and look at the ’90s when we came the closest we’ve ever gotten to getting an amendment through Congress, you know who was on the term limits bill? Bob Dole was on the term limits bill, Strom Thurmond was on the term limits bill. Names you would have never imagined. ‘Cause all of these people said, “Sure, I may be playing by the rules of seniority right now, but I would prefer that we had a totally different system, and I’m standing up for overhauling the system and getting some new blood in here.”
Philip Blumel: Right. So bully to you, Senator Rubio.
Nick Tomboulides: Bully, bully.
Philip Blumel: And keep up the good work on that.
Philip Blumel: Some scofflaws, when caught red-handed, may claim, “The devil made me do it.” US Representative Markwayne Mullin blamed the Lord for this. He’s featured in today’s Scofflaw Report. Representative Markwayne Mullin was elected in 2012 to represent Oklahoma’s 2nd District in the US House. In running for that open seat, he distinguished himself from his opponents by signing the US term limits pledge, committing him to co-sponsor and vote for the Congressional Term Limits Amendment Bill. He also promised voters he would serve only three terms in Congress. It turned out he was lying in both cases.
Philip Blumel: Upon his election, he was asked repeatedly to co-sponsor the Congressional Term Limits Amendment as he had promised to do in his campaign. He refused. Most congressional pledge signers live up to their commitment, but it is not unheard of for a pledger to turn scofflaw after they get comfortable in Washington DC. But it is the breaking of his three-term self term limit that was truly novel. In 2018, Mullin ran for his fourth term in office. There was an uproar from his constituents and the media for this about-face. Representative Mullin posted a video of himself and his wife at home explaining his decision. “You know,” he said, “We really thought about this and we decided to break the pledge after consulting with each other and God, and this is the decision we came to.” God, really? Mullin deleted the shameful performance from YouTube soon after, but not before he was given a 2019 Scammy Award from US Term Limits.
Nick Tomboulides: Our next Scammy is the best of the worst. This is the Scammy for Best Actor.
Philip Blumel: Best actor?
Nick Tomboulides: It’s a little bit tongue in cheek. It goes to the politician with the worst excuse for breaking his or her term limits pledge. We’re looking for the biggest liar when it comes to cynical politicians who promised voters one thing and then do another once they get into office.
Philip Blumel: How did we narrow down the field to just a couple for this award?
Nick Tomboulides: Well, there were so many, there were literally thousands of dishonest politicians who had taken and broken term limits pledges, that I had to actually cast lots to find four. Well, let’s find out right now, I’m gonna open the envelope.
Philip Blumel: Oh, okay.
Nick Tomboulides: And the Scammy for Best Actor goes to Markwayne Mullin.
Philip Blumel: Markwayne Mullin.
Nick Tomboulides: The man with two first names, and the man with two broken term limits pledges. He didn’t just break the pledge he made claiming he would step down after three terms, he also broke the pledge he made to sponsor the US Term Limits Amendment. So, I think at the moment you do that, at the moment you become twice as dishonest as everybody else, that really sealed your fate. How could we give it to anyone else?
Philip Blumel: Good choice. Such arrogance is not new. Back in 2017 in a meeting with constituents that was captured by KOCO-Channel 5 in Oklahoma City, representative Mullin made this claim.
Markwayne Mullin: So one, you said you paid for me to do this. Bullcrap, I paid for myself. I paid enough taxes before I ever got there and continue to through my company to pay my own salary. This is a service. No one here pays me to go. I do it as an honor, as a service.
Speaker 8: Pays you to go where?
Speaker 9: But that salary…
Markwayne Mullin: You guys, I’m just saying, I’m just saying…
Speaker 8: Pays you to go where?
Markwayne Mullin: This is a service for me, not a career, and I thank God this isn’t how I make a living.
Speaker 8: Oh, please.
Philip Blumel: Of course, this isn’t true. Mullin was paid $174,000 plus benefits that year by taxpayers. The fact that he pays taxes, as we all do, hardly alters that fact. To Pat Campbell on Oklahoma’s KFAQ Radio 1170, former Oklahoma congressman and Senator Tom Coburn summed up the career of Representative Mullin as “sad.”
Tom Coburn: Well, I think it’s sad for Oklahoma, and I think it’s sad for Markwayne Mullin. You can change your mind, and that’s honorable. But if you change your mind on term limits, what you do is you say, “I won’t run, I’ll honor my term limits, and then I’ll come back the next time and run again.” Because what it tells us is that the arrogance of power has now infected his thinking. And so for me, I think it’s just really sad. If you can’t believe him on term limits, what else can you believe him on? So, his obligation really is to Washington, believing what Washington tells him rather than believing what he’s told Oklahomans. And so, it’s just sad. That’s what happens in Washington. I mean, we see it every day. Look at the stupid things that are said from Washington like, “You don’t pay my salary.” Give me a break. Why would you say that? Our big problem in our country is we don’t trust Washington and Markwayne just added to it. You can’t trust them because they actually like Washington more than they like us.
Philip Blumel: The bottom line is that scofflaw US Representative Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma ran on term limits and made specific pledges, one in writing, that he had no intention of keeping.
Philip Blumel: Lastly, we have yet another run-off for the US Congress and yet another pledge signer making it into the US House. In the last episode of this podcast, we talked about Kwanza Hall, down in Georgia, had a runoff election to fill the seat of…
Nick Tomboulides: Civil Rights icon John Lewis.
Philip Blumel: And he won, and he was a signer of the US term limits pledge. And so yet two weeks ago, another member joined the US House that had signed the pledge. And now this last week, we had another runoff in Louisiana where Luke Letlow won the fifth Congressional seat held by his former boss, US Representative Ralph Abraham. And again, Luke Letlow signed the US terms pledge. Welcome aboard.
Nick Tomboulides: Neither of their predecessors had signed the term limits pledge, nor had they co-sponsored the Term Limits Amendment, meaning we’ve got a net gain of plus two, not Republican, not Democrat, but term limits. The term limits party is growing its ranks within Congress, folks from both sides of the aisle. Kwanza Hall is a Democrat who served on the Atlanta City Council; Luke Letlow is a Republican from Louisiana. It’s great to see them both jumping on board. And I’m happy to report too that Paul Jacob, the former Executive Director of US Term Limits, current Board of Directors member, actually met with Kwanza Hall last week and presented him with a Champion of Term Limits award on behalf of our organization. And by the time this podcast airs, he should be a co-sponsor on House Joint Resolution 20, the US Term Limits Amendment, as introduced by Representative Francis Rooney. Excellent. You have to say it like Mr. Burns. Excellent.
Philip Blumel: One interesting note about US Representative Luke Letlow and about his former boss, Ralph Abraham. Ralph Abraham was not a pledge signer, but he said that he was a term limits supporter. I believe him, because he made a self-limit pledge, it wasn’t one of ours, he just decided to announce to the voters before he ran that he was only gonna serve three terms, six years, in compliance with our term limits pledge, and he lived up to that. What’s interesting is he got some encouragement from some strange quarters to break the pledge, put some pressure on him. He said it made him think, but he decided that, no, he’s gonna live up to his word and he’s gonna go back to Louisiana. And you know who this was, who was putting some pressure on him, right?
Nick Tomboulides: I believe it was former President Carter, correct?
Philip Blumel: No. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: The Dalai Lama?
Philip Blumel: No, sir. President Trump. And they were seated together on Air Force One, and Trump mentioned to him that how much he appreciated his support because Abraham was a staunch supporter of the president and the president was encouraging him to break his pledge and run again. I think that’s pretty lame, but I wanted to bring that up because I think it shows something about Ralph Abraham, so thank you for that. And Ralph Abraham and leaving that seat leaves it to a member of his own party and someone else that also supports term limits and even took the extra step of signing the pledge and will now be a co-sponsor of the amendment. So, it’s a step ahead.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, there’s an under-appreciated number of people who get to Washington and realize that they have entered a tedious and baffling and utterly dysfunctional system, and wanna go home.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Nick Tomboulides: No, not at all. And we appreciate that decision, it’s perfectly reasonable based on circumstances.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. I remember Senator Jim DeMint who spent some time in the US Senate and he decided not to run again because he felt that it’s not the most effective thing he could do to change policy, oddly. You’d think, well, if you’re a member of the US Congress, but the US Congress is so dysfunctional. He felt like there was so much work that needed to be done on the outside that he was better equipped to do, and so he left from the Senate to run a think tank, and he felt that he was more valuable there than he was in the US Senate. I find that interesting.
Nick Tomboulides: And he has also, Jim DeMint, spent a lot of his retirement as a term limits activist. When I testified to the US Senate last year, Jim DeMint was right there with me. We were standing shoulder to shoulder, and I know he gave it to that committee probably better than anyone I’ve ever heard. He has been such a stalwart ally of this movement over the years, and he’s definitely been able to do more as an activist since he retired.
Philip Blumel: Right. I’ll point one last thing about Jim DeMint, is that he’s the one that put an amendment on a bill years ago that asked for a sense of the Senate vote, a non-binding resolution, on whether or not there should be term limits on members of the Congress and the US Senate. And just to bring this full circle, Senator Feinstein voted nay, but she does not remember.
Nick Tomboulides: We gotta cut that out. [laughter] That has to be cut out.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] We’re definitely gonna cut that out.
Nick Tomboulides: You just undermined the entire tone of the podcast.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another weekly episode of No Uncertain Terms. After an election year, which saw voters send more term limits pledge signers to Congress and the state legislatures than ever before, US Term Limits is gearing up for the 2021 legislative sessions. As a No Uncertain Terms listener, you are a member of the inner circle of the term limits movement. What can you do to help in 2021? Let us know at termlimits.com/volunteer21. Sign up as a volunteer and answer some simple questions about what kind of work you’d feel comfortable doing to help advance the Congressional Term Limits Amendment. That’s termlimits.com/volunteer21. Hey, and don’t forget to mark your calendars for Term Limits Day, February 27th. Thank you. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have No Uncertain Terms Podcast.
Speaker 11: USTL.