Philip Blumel: Term Limits in the Washington Crossfire. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the Term Limits Movement for the week of January 9th, 2023.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: As House Republicans battle over the new Speaker of the US House, presumably Kevin McCarthy of California, Term Limits is emerging as a major issue in negotiations, and the odds of a floor vote on the Term Limits amendment is increasing by the hour. US Term Limits Executive Director, Nick Tomboulides, is with us this week to help us navigate through all the smoke and try to find the fire. Hey, Nick.
Nick Tomboulides: Hello and Happy New Year.
Philip Blumel: Happy New Year to you. First, a program note. Nick and I are going to record this, while this story is unfolding about the attempts to elect Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker. And right now, I think what do we have? 12 votes so far, without a result.
Nick Tomboulides: 12 votes and Kevin McCarthy has lost all of them.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, that’s right. By the time you hear this, the specific issue of his election might be resolved, but everything we’re talking about today I think is still going to be quite relevant. And with that, we’ll get into it. Nick, we have a situation that, if you’ll permit me to bury the lead, reminds me of just a couple years ago when Nancy Pelosi was taking the helm as the House Speaker, as the Democrats just took power in the US Congress. And as the minority leader, she would be the shoe-in for that position. That’s quite natural, right? Just like we’d expect Kevin McCarthy as the minority leader Republican to be elected speaker now. But there was a minor kerfuffle because a bunch of young Democrats refused to give Nancy their unqualified support, unless she decided to make some concessions to them.
Philip Blumel: And one of those, although it turned out not happening, one of those was term limits on the House leadership and term limits on committee chairs. And they went back and forth. And there were some concessions made and eventually, Pelosi took the reins as Speaker. Now, fast forward to today, GOP takes over the House, Kevin McCarthy, minority leader, presumably going to be the Speaker, and a handful of Congress members are refusing to go along, unless he gives some concessions, and term limits are at the center of it. But it doesn’t look like Kevin McCarthy is going to get off quite as easy as Pelosi did, does it?
Nick Tomboulides: No, it doesn’t. He’s basically going around promising everybody everything because he wants this job so badly. And what’s happened here, as a result of USTL pledge signer Ralph Norman, our sponsor, and the thousands of emails and calls that our term limit supporters have made into Congress, the US Term Limits amendment specifically has become a major bargaining chip. It’s being reported that McCarthy has agreed to hold a vote on constitutional term limits in exchange for speakership votes. And as of last report, his margin is tightening. He had 214 supporters. As of last count, there are currently seven defectors. He can only afford four. So, even though he’s lost 12 straight times, it looks like he’s eventually going to get it and now he’s indebted to these 20 members of the uprising, most of whom are our pledge signers, who want term limits. And you can distinguish this from what Pelosi did because Pelosi was only promising a House rule. A House rule can be decided entirely by the Speaker, it can be overturned by any future Speaker, and it didn’t apply to really rooting out and dismantling the careerism that has been affecting, afflicting Congress for a very long time.
Nick Tomboulides: Whereas here, McCarthy has promised to vote on real term limits, constitutional term limits, more specifically, three House terms, two Senate terms and no longer limit. So what would have to happen is all the Speaker can do, the most he can do is bring it to the floor, then the members would vote on it. It would need a two-thirds majority to get through the House, where it would then have to transfer over to the Senate.
Philip Blumel: Yeah, I should make the point that for term limits on Congress itself, unlike again, in the case of Pelosi, it cannot be done by a rule. It requires constitutional amendment. I’ve seen that tossed around the media, a little bit of misunderstanding on that point. But a rule is completely out of the possibility because of US Term Limits v. Thornton, the 1995 Supreme Court decision that said that it required a constitutional amendment to pass congressional term limits. So if McCarthy promises a vote on congressional term limits, he’s promising a vote on a constitutional amendment, presumably…
Nick Tomboulides: Correct.
Philip Blumel: Although we don’t have confirmation, presumably on the US Term limits amendment that is sponsored by Ralph Norman, who is one of the Congress members that is refusing, or at least until just recently, I don’t have the final word, a vote for Kevin McCarthy as Speaker.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about this. There’s still a ways to go. And I think with McCarthy, historically, he’s proven he’s about as trustworthy as gas station sushi. [chuckle] So there could still be a Lucy pulling the football away element of this after the fact.
Philip Blumel: Sure.
Nick Tomboulides: If he gets the speakership, he might pull back entirely on the promise.
Philip Blumel: Oh, yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: He might pull back partially and agree to hold a vote on some kind of flimsy Washington friendly term limits, like 20 years or 16 years or 12 years. So, our job, right now, is we need to make our voices heard. We need to insist that it be the US Term limits amendment. It has to be three House terms and two Senate terms. Even just in terms of the membership, it has to be that way because there are 131 members of Congress who have signed our pledge to support these strong term limits exclusively, and they won’t vote for the watered down Great Value brand term limits that someone like McCarthy might want.
Philip Blumel: No, that’s right. When I thought about these different concessions that these rebels are demanding, it seems like it would be just no skin off of his teeth, just to allow a vote on this constitutional amendment. I mean, from his point of view, it’s unlikely to pass. So, what’s the big deal? Let’s just have a vote, and then I’ll get the votes I need to become speaker, these rebels will get the vote that they want, everybody will be happy, right? Well…
Nick Tomboulides: And it would be… One thing to add, too, it would be a political bonanza for Republicans.
Philip Blumel: Oh, no kidding. No kidding. You can see all the benefits for them.
Nick Tomboulides: It would automatically elevate congressional Republicans to a level of status and respect that they’ve never had in my lifetime. I mean, they’ve been a running joke, they’ve been a punchline with how ineffective they are, and particularly, when McCarthy was in leadership. So, this would really be a way to win the hearts and minds of the American people as well by doing something as popular and bipartisan as term limits.
Philip Blumel: Right. So, you could definitely see why it would be in his benefit to do it, and I guess you could say give in on this point and allow a vote. And when I look at what the arguments might be going through his mind, why he wouldn’t want to do it is that, one, he doesn’t expect it to pass, so I guess he shouldn’t waste the time doing it. But I think more importantly than that… Oh.
Nick Tomboulides: Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah. If we didn’t want to waste time voting on things that didn’t pass, [laughter] we probably shouldn’t have had 12 votes on Kevin McCarthy.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Yeah. No kidding, yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: So, I think that ship has sailed…
Philip Blumel: Oh, I don’t think I’m making this argument here. [chuckle]
Nick Tomboulides: That would be a difficult one to make with a straight face if I had to venture a guess.
Philip Blumel: Oh, yeah. And actually, I don’t even think that’s seriously to him. I think that more important arguments why he would not want to do it, is it’d upset a lot of the majority of the Republican conference who are just careerists, who want to stay there forever. And a lot of those people just naturally support him without even thinking about it to be the speaker, right? ‘Cause they don’t care so much about policy as much as they care about themselves. And you know what? It would expose a bunch of politicians who claim to be for term limits, but when it came down to a vote, aren’t.
Nick Tomboulides: Yeah. And what’s the real power behind it, opposing it in the shadows, in the cloak rooms of Washington on K Street? It’s the big lobbyists and the big special interests.
Philip Blumel: You bet.
Nick Tomboulides: There’s no doubt about that. I mean, those are the ones really twisting the arms of members and begging them, “Don’t hold a vote on term limits. We never want our gravy train to stop.” So that’s where they’re going to feel the most pressure, and we as the citizens in the grassroots need to counteract that with making our own big statement when this comes up for a vote.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. And lastly, McCarthy is a career politician. I mean, he got elected to the California legislature when he was 37 years old. That’s a full-time job. So, if you’re a member of the Legislature of California, that’s what you do for a living. That’s what he’s been doing since he was 37. He’s not that old, by the way. He’s actually the same age as me. He’s 57. But he’s been 20 years in and that’s… And he’s…
Nick Tomboulides: Being 50, in his 50s, did not stop him from writing a book called, “Young Guns,” about how young Republicans will be taking over Congress in the near future. That promise hasn’t been kept, of course, because we don’t have term limits yet.
Philip Blumel: Wait a minute. He wrote a book about encouraging young people’s interest in and getting involved in politics and advancing through systems.
Nick Tomboulides: Yes.
Philip Blumel: So naturally, he must have had a whole chapter on term limits, I’m sure, right?
Nick Tomboulides: I don’t think so. No.
Philip Blumel: Really? [chuckle] No?
Nick Tomboulides: I don’t remember a single word about term limits in that book, oddly enough.
Philip Blumel: How about that? That’s a coincidence because it just so happened in 2020, he had this… His new version of the revamped Contract with America that he was trying to push to advance the Republicans in Congress. And it too, although it was very similar to the Contract with America, didn’t include term limits. Imagine.
Nick Tomboulides: It’s amazing. It’s like writing a book about baseball and leaving out Babe Ruth.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Yeah, no kidding.
Speaker 4: This is a public service announcement.
Philip Blumel: Early in the voting for House Speaker, Newsmax talking head, Rob Schmitt, reported on a somewhat comical moment notable for its punchline, a call for a floor vote on congressional term limits.
Rob Schmitt: Alright, welcome back. What a small group of Republicans in Washington did today, obviously, embarrassed the party, but it was at least ostensibly grounded in rejecting what many feel has become somewhat of a uniparty in Washington, a massive government growing larger and spending us into an oblivion of debt, something that both sides kind of are part of and are responsible for. Kevin McCarthy was the victim of a very loud message that was sent today. Although to be fair, he likely didn’t deserve that message nearly as much as somebody like Mitch McConnell would have after the omnibus spending bill we just went through. After losing three rounds of votes, McCarthy’s bid for House Speaker waits until tomorrow, now marking the first time in a century the House held multiple ballots to elect the next Speaker. It wasn’t a great day for Republicans in general. In the first round, McCarthy had 203, Jeffries 212, 19 others. At that point, Jim Jordan only had six votes, Andy Biggs had around 10.
Rob Schmitt: The second round came next. McCarthy 203, Jeffries 212, Jordan with 19. Now, if you’re looking for an explanation as to why Republicans had such a humiliating afternoon, here’s Chip Roy explaining what it was that they were trying to do.
Chip Roy: People ask me, “What do you want?” I want the tools or I want the leadership to stop the swamp from running over the average American every single day. I’m going to sit here until we figure out how to stop spending money we don’t have. I don’t want any more empty promises. I don’t want any more, “Oh, don’t worry. Trust us. We’ll do it.”
Rob Schmitt: Now, many are angry over this dysfunction, of course. You’ve been seeing it analyzed all day on TV. But we’ve had Chip Roy on this show many times. We can assure you that his heart truly is in the right place. Matt Gaetz was the first to voice his nomination for Jim Jordan, a congressman who doesn’t even want to be Speaker and had just nominated McCarthy himself, Jordan had. But Gaetz went up there and said he wanted Jordan anyways. Here was that moment.
Matt Gaetz: I rise to nominate the most talented, hardest working member of the Republican conference, who just gave a speech with more vision than we have ever heard from the alternative. I’m nominating Jim Jordan. Maybe Jim Jordan would be the right person for Speaker of the House because he wouldn’t fight us when we try to get a term limits bill on the floor.
Philip Blumel: Well, anyway, so we’re getting word out. I saw it in the Washington Post. I saw it elsewhere that the promise has been made, the House would be able to make a floor vote on the term limits amendment. Well, that’s fantastic, if he follows through. Now, he might think to himself, as I mentioned earlier, that, “Well, it won’t pass,” right? And actually, I don’t think it will, to be quite honest with you. It could, and I think that’d be great. It has more co-sponsors than the bill has ever had before, and it’s been introduced every session for decades. So, it could. But there’s a lot of advantages of having a floor vote on an important issue like this, even if it doesn’t end up passing, right?
Nick Tomboulides: Absolutely. I think it would have a galvanizing effect on our country. It would be a way of bringing the term limits issue back to the forefront of the political discussion and really forcing every candidate for every office to take a stand and announce their position on this issue when they’re running, so the voters can know, and the voters can make an informed decision. Part of the way that politicians have slyly opposed term limits over the last couple decades is not by coming out and outright opposing it. But by having the liberty to ignore the issue and pray that it goes away because people will be distracted by something else. If there’s a House vote on term limits and all the cameras are now on term limits and on the term limits activists, they won’t be able to hide anymore. They won’t be able to run from this issue. They will have to confront it head on, and they’ll have to confront the fact that 80% plus of the American people want this to happen. So, even if the initial…
Philip Blumel: That’s right.
Nick Tomboulides: House vote doesn’t pass, I do think the amount of momentum that it creates will be massive.
Philip Blumel: I do, too. Think about the power of the US Term Limits pledge that we give to candidates to sign, usually prior to them winning seats in the Congress. Imagine how important that’ll be during primaries and even during general elections going forward, after this national debate. Huge, huge. Especially on an issue where they have 80% support of the people. And then imagine the effect also on the state capitals and the state governments that are considering passing the term limits convention bills in order to call for an amendment proposing convention on Article 5.
Nick Tomboulides: It would demonstrate two things to those folks, number one, that the people want term limits. Number two, that Congress is too ineffective to pass it. So the states then have an impetus to step up and do it on their own because Congress refuses to go all the way. I mean, there’s so many positive impacts of this. Every political actor will be observing the results of this vote, and that includes the Supreme Court as well. The Supreme Court members tend to wait until it’s politically opportune to touch certain issues. There’s been hints that they might revisit US Term Limits v. Thornton down the road. This could also be a jumping off point for that.
Philip Blumel: I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s right, too. At every level, it’s going to make a very big difference by turning people’s attention back to this issue, and the public’s. And the public is 80% support this. So if you get something moving on the ground, that is going to be something that is going to be hard to hold back by any political institutions. I also think about the fact that when you actually have a vote, you can identify who’s supporting it, who opposes it, which will be helpful in elections, but also who’s been claiming to be for it and doesn’t really. And I think that’s another thing that’ll come out. This will have… We’ll see some new scofflaws be exposed. And I think that’s positive, too.
Nick Tomboulides: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people who have written to their Congress member about this issue, specifically about our pledge or about our bill, and they get back this wishy-washy form letter of, “I think there’s too many careerists in Washington, but at the same time, experience is very important… ” I mean, look how great these speaker votes are going, Phil. Experience in Congress is so important to make sure the body is functional.
Philip Blumel: [laughter] Yeah.
Nick Tomboulides: But they get this stupid email and the person ultimately doesn’t take a position at the end and says, “Thank you for your letter.” They never hear from him again and they refuse to meet with them. This would be a way of getting every single person on the record so they know where they stand, we can draw lines in the sand, and if someone in back home doesn’t like the way the member has voted on this, it’s a perfect issue to use in a primary, Democratic or Republican.
Philip Blumel: Right. This is a extremely important event that’s occurring right now for the Term Limits Movement. I can’t understate it. Now, I don’t want to get everybody’s hopes too high because we’re dealing with politicians here and we can get stabbed in the back at any time. But I tell you what, right now, this issue is being put forward and we have a promise on the table, apparently, to have a vote on term limits, congressional term limits in the near future in the US House. And how long have we been pushing for that? The listeners of this podcast, we all support term limits. We want to take action. We want to make sure this happens. What should we do? One thing I would throw out there is, go to termlimits.com, and one of the pull-down menus at the top says…
Nick Tomboulides: Current actions.
Philip Blumel: Current actions. Yeah, current actions. Go to that pull down menu because one of those is an opportunity to send Kevin McCarty a message saying, “Hey, we want a vote on term limits in this session of Congress.” He needs to get millions of these. So, get the link and send it to your friends and family and everybody you know, because now is the time that Kevin McCarty has to hear this. And he’s getting pressure from all sides on this issue. It’s now or never.
Nick Tomboulides: Let’s hold his feet to the fire. The action is called “National Call to Action for Term Limits on Congress.” Your message will go straight through to McCarty. We have to make sure that he keeps his word.
Philip Blumel: Yep. So that’s termlimits.com. The other thing, Term Limits Day is coming up. Perfect. What’s Term Limits Day? Term Limits Day is the holiday that we celebrate each year. It celebrates the passage of term limits on the US President, but it’s become a generic term limits celebration day. On every Term Limits Day, we ask that people make some show of public support for term limits. And do you see how important it is this year, while this debate’s going on and the timing with this upcoming, potential vote on congressional term limits? They need to see this. They need to see bumper stickers on cars. They need to see signs in people’s yards, right? They need to be getting letters and they need to see letters in papers. They need to see us excited and engaged in this issue so that they can’t just pretend that the deal was never made, right? We gotta hold their feet to the fire.
Nick Tomboulides: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more… You said it so well, I don’t really have anything to add to that.
Philip Blumel: [chuckle] Okay, very good. Alright. Well, I look forward to following up next week with what came of this week’s votes, ’cause I imagine it’s going to be all over by then.
Nick Tomboulides: All of the Republican House members seem to be McCarthy-ite now.
Philip Blumel: Oh, really?
Nick Tomboulides: It’s Ich bin ein McCarthy. [chuckle] They’re very close. And he’s up to 82% now on the prediction markets, 82% chance of becoming the next speaker. So, this deal could be done by the time this podcast airs. We’ll find out.
Philip Blumel: Yeah. I hate to sound so jaded and boring, but I never really doubted he’d be the speaker. What I was all excited and concerned about is whether or not term limits would end up being part of the mix, and it is.
Nick Tomboulides: And by the way, we don’t love McCarthy.
Philip Blumel: No.
Speaker 2: But we’re not opposed to politicians having to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
Philip Blumel: Oh, right. Sure.
Nick Tomboulides: Because they’ve been boxed into a corner by the grassroots and by members of the caucus who are more principled than they are on term limits.
Philip Blumel: Sure. In fact, that’s how democracy works when it does work. Very good. Thanks a lot, Nick. Next week.
Nick Tomboulides: Awesome.
Stacey Selleck: Like the show? You can help by subscribing and leaving a five-star review on both Apple and Spotify. It’s free.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. The Term Limits Convention bills are moving through the state legislatures. This could be a breakthrough year for the Term Limits movement. To check on the status of the term limits convention resolution in your state, go to termlimits.com/takeaction. There, you will see if it has been introduced and where it stands in the committee process on its way to the floor vote. If there’s action to take, you’ll see a “Take Action” button by your state. Click it. This will give you the opportunity to send a message to the most relevant legislators, urging them to support the legislation. They have to know you’re watching. That’s termlimits.com/takeaction. If your state has already passed the Term Limits Convention resolution, or the bill’s not been introduced in your state, you can still help. Please consider making a contribution to US Term Limits. It is our aim to hit the reset button on the US Congress, and you can help. Go to termlimits.com/donate, termlimits.com/donate. Thanks. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: Contact your state lawmakers before they vote on term limits for Congress. Go to termlimits.com/takeaction.