Philip Blumel: Mr. Term Limits goes to Washington. Hi, am Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official Podcast of the Term Limits movement. This is episode 222, published on September 25th, 2023.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: Last Tuesday, Executive Director of US Term Limits, Nick Tomboulides, snuck into the Death Star and told House Members, right to their faces, why America needs term limits. Specifically, he was there testifying in support of HJR11, this is the resolution sponsored by representative Ralph Norman in South Carolina. That proposes a constitutional amendment limiting the number of years members of the House may serve to six years, or three terms, and members of the Senate to 12 years, or two terms. Nick appeared before the US House Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution and limited government. Let’s listen to Nick’s short introductory statement in its entirety.
Nick Tomboulides: Each year Gallup does a poll where they ask Americans how much confidence they have in 16 different social institutions. At the very top of the list is small businesses, 70% of Americans have confidence in those. The lowest rated group is the US Congress, only 8% of people trust Congress. It’s also no shock, of course, that 83% of Americans support term limits, that includes huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters. So if 83% of us want term limits, why is it not yet the law of the land, because the permanent political class thinks that the American people are wrong, they think we’re unsophisticated, they think we’re not smart enough to decide this issue. I couldn’t disagree more. I think the American people can see exactly what is happening here. In the real world, we are surrounded by change, by progress, by evolution. Technology doubles every year. The only thing that never changes and never adapts is Congress.
Nick Tomboulides: You probably saw the story about the two ancient frozen mummies, Mexico calls them space aliens, here we call them senators. A third of our senate is 70 or older, including several members who were born before or during World War II. And of course, because of the seniority system, the older you are, the more power you have. In the real world when a powerful person is showing obvious mental decline the people around them do what’s best for that person. But Washington is not the real world, it’s a fantasy world where you get ahead not by speaking the truth, but by graveling to those above you, if you fall in line and vote with leadership, you get to keep your seat for life. We’re always told that members of Congress are hard at work protecting our democracy, protecting it from presidents, former presidents, the supreme court, and so on. One member of this committee even wrote a book about that, but in reality, there is nothing less democratic than a congressional election. Over the last 20 years, house incumbents have a 94% re-election rate.
Nick Tomboulides: The Senate numbers aren’t much better. Last year, 100% of senators were re-elected, that doesn’t happen because people are thrilled with their Congress members, come on, it happens because the ruling elite have rigged the system in favor of incumbents. I’ll give you an example, in just the last few months, I’ve received a stack of full color male brochures from my member of congress, I assume everybody in the district got one. On the back, in fine print, it says, “Paid for by the taxpayers.” So he spends a million bucks in public funds to tell us that he’s against wasteful spending. You help me figure that out. But the bottom line is he is campaigning on the taxpayers’ dime, and if someone wanted to challenge him, they’d have to raise money the old fashioned way from real donors, so you can see how the deck is stacked. Where does all the big money go? It flows to incumbents through the power of PACs, lobbyists and special interests, incumbents raise roughly 10 times more money than their challengers, that’s to say nothing of all the other advantages they hold, like free media, name recognition, and a staff of 20 people who are basically a government-funded campaign team.
Nick Tomboulides: This very committee has held hearings where politicians have asked, “Is Mark Zuckerberg too powerful? Or is Elon Musk too powerful?” I think it’s time we started asking, “Is Congress too powerful?” Look what’s happening to Google right now. When a private business uses its power to eliminate the competition, it’s called a monopoly, it gets fined and maybe even shut down, but when a member of Congress does the same thing, they get re-elected. It’s a double standard. So the game has been rigged, and as a result, only about 15% of congressional elections are actually competitive, our most senior members run with thorny opposition. Similar to how Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping manage to stay in power. Is it any surprise voter apathy is reaching record highs and people are increasingly saying, “I don’t feel like my vote matters, I don’t have faith in our elections, we need to fix this.” A constitutional amendment for term limits is the only way forward, it will create open seats, lower the barriers to entry and provide us with a citizen legislature as our founders intended, it has to be a six-year limit in the house and a 12-year limit in the Senate, because that is what the American people, your employers, demand.
Nick Tomboulides: Fortunately, 112 members of the house have already signed a pledge to support this specific term limits amendment and nothing longer, if the bill gets amended to a longer limit, voting for it would be breaking that pledge. I believe this upcoming vote on term limits will be a defining moment for our country, the ball is in your court, you get to decide how history will remember you. Will you be remembered as the Rich Men North of Richmond as the punch line to every joke, as the people with an 8% approval rating that nobody can stand, or will you be remembered as the modern day George Washington. When Washington had the opportunity to become a king, he said no, because he believed in this country and he trusted in its people, he knew there was a time to step aside and let new leaders emerge for our generation. Now is that time. Thank you, and I’m happy to answer any questions.
Philip Blumel: The Q&A that Nick invited was laughable with committee members posturing and discussing everything under the sun except for the subject at hand, and most importantly, not asking Nick any meaningful questions. And to think about that these Congress members have access to more knowledge than nearly anyone on earth about the subject on the bill that they had convened to consider and to use their time to bloviate. Now, keep this in mind when term limits’ opponents rhapsodize about the importance of congressional experience, this is what they’re talking about. Anyway, the next step is for the sub-committee to vote on moving HJR11 to a hearing of the entire Judiciary Sub-Committee. Now, the chair of that committee is Representative Jim Jordan, and that’s a good sign. Jordan attended the hearing on Tuesday, even though he didn’t have to, and made an opening statement in support of congressional term limits. Listen to this.
Jim Jordan: I thank the chairman for convening this hearing for the good work he and the committee are doing on a number of issues and our witnesses. I would just say, it seems to me there are 33 trillion reasons why we need a balanced budget amendment. Every state has to balance their budget, every county, every city, every township, everybody has to balance their budget except to one entity that has a $33 trillion debt. So maybe we should just have a balanced budget amendment of the constitution and just start tackling this huge, huge problem and maybe one of the ways to help in that effort is to limit the terms of the politicians who’ve created the $33 trillion debt, that seems pretty common, seems to me, the good folks I get the privilege of representing back in the fourth district of Ohio. My guess is the vast majority of them would say, “That’s pretty common sense,” and so I appreciate the witnesses who are here today, the fact that we’re talking about these issues, something that I think needs to happen and should have happened a long time ago. With that, I yield back.
Philip Blumel: Not bad. Now, house speaker Kevin McCarthy in order to win his position, promised to his fellow House members that this bill would get a floor vote this session. We’ll see. As of last week, Florida representative Matt Gaetz was getting mighty inpatient.
Matt Gaetz: On this very floor in January, the whole world witnessed a historic contest for House Speaker. I rise today to serve notice, Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role, the path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair. We have had no vote on term limits or on balanced budgets as the agreement demanded and required.
Philip Blumel: Stay tuned. Next, Republican presidential contender, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina was speaking at Brown’s Barbecue in Rye, New Hampshire last week. And during the Q&A was asked about how he could assist in enacting congressional term limits.
Tim Scott: I’ve supported a lot of legislation on term limits, number one, I will continue to do so. Number two, I have committed myself to term limits. I think we as elected officials should also lead by example, so many folks use the excuse even when we sign on to the term limit legislation, “Oh gosh, we can’t get a pass in Congress.” Well, it’s hard to get it past the Congress, but what we can do is limit our own terms, this is my last term in the Senate, we lose or draw, I certainly hope to be your next president of the United States.
Tim Scott: Thank y’all very much. But either way, this is not a full-time job. This is an opportunity to fulfill a mission of public service, and then to return to work, my reputation will go up and my income will too. I mean, literally, this is public service. We should all believe in term limits, and it’s one of the reasons why I told my state that this was my last one before I ran, so that they could have a small, clear fact that Tim Scott is not on the ballot of the United States Senate in 2028.
Philip Blumel: For the record, US term limits does not ask Congress members to self-limit, but we certainly respect the gesture, especially when politicians fall through with it. Speaking of self-limiting, you probably heard that Utah Senator Mitt Romney announced last week, he will not be running for re-election. Here’s Senator Romney on CBS Saturday Morning.
Mitt Romney: At the end of a second term, I would be in my mid-80s, and I think it’s time for guys like me to get out of the way and have people of the next generation step forward.
Philip Blumel: As a result, Senator Romney will leave the Senate with his dignity intact. Support for a Congressional term limits popped up on the other side of the aisle since our last podcast as well. Democratic representative Ro Khanna of California unveiled a blueprint for political reform that includes, yes, term limits as well as a stock trading ban, term limits Supreme Court judges and other things. This bill isn’t written yet, but he expects to recruit other Congress members to join him in creating a hopefully bipartisan legislation that includes several popular reform ideas. Alright, I was pleased to hear that, although I have to say that a second term limits Bill in the house would provide a way for Congress members to split their votes and therefore doom term limits. And we got suckered by that ploy back in the 1990s when the GOP rode back into the house majority for the first time in decades, waving the term limits banner. Now, yes, they provided the House vote on term limits that they promised, but they actually delivered several of them, and that way every Congress member who wanted to be on the record being for term limits could vote for a term limits bill without any fear of the term limits bill actually passing.
Philip Blumel: Alright, so we’ve been careful to try to maintain consensus on one bill. Now to his credit, representative Khanna seems to have recognized this, and he said that he could alter his proposal so as not to undermine existing efforts. That sounds good to me. Now, another congressional Democrat spoke up for term limits as well, last week. This would be representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Now, he’s 54 years old, so he’s one of the younger members of Congress. In fact, he’s been critical of President Biden’s re-election campaign, largely due to age concerns. But he says that the issue isn’t really that there’s a few aged members in Congress, it’s just that there’s so many, and it’s becoming the norm. In his words, there is a “Growing lack of generational diversity.” He said he wouldn’t want to see a congress full of 28-year-olds either. So representative Phillips sees the issue of the gerontocracy, that is the rule of the aged, but he sees term limits rather than age limits as the best solution. Here is representative Phillips being interviewed by NPR.
Steve: The seniority of many lawmakers concerns Democrat Dean Phillips, a member of the House from Minnesota. At 54, he is younger than the average member of Congress, and he’s decades younger than some leaders like Mitch McConnell who’ve had recent health issues. Phillips insists the problem is not strictly age. What, if anything, is wrong about having several senior national leaders who are in their 70s or 80s?
Dean Phillips: Well, Steve, not only is there nothing wrong with having older members of Congress serving in our government, I think there’s actually a great need for that, the wisdom, experience, perspective that older generations can bring to our governance is both remarkable, important and necessary, but I also have encountered a culture in Congress in which there is a, what I would call, a growing lack of generational diversity, and I also believe in term limits, because I see how that both opens doors for younger generations to become public servants, and I also see how it changes the behavior of outgoing members of Congress who feel liberated to both their conscience and not necessarily their party line.
Steve: You were critical, I believe, at one time of Nancy Pelosi for hanging on to the speakership as long as she did, she has given up leadership of her party, but is running for re-election for another term as Speaker Emerita. Is that okay with you?
Dean Phillips: Well, you’re right in that I wanted to see generational change in the Democratic caucus, it happened, I was a long-time supporter of our leader Jeffries who has now ascended to that role and is doing an outstanding job. But I also have to say that there’s an important role for those who have been in that seat, for Speaker Emerita Pelosi to provide her experience or mentorship, if you will, or wisdom to the new leadership team, which is a much younger one than in the past, and it comes as no surprise to listeners. Sadly, money is what fuels outcomes in politics, and her ability to raise resources is unprecedented and now very much necessary, and again, this is not about ageism, I just believe that we are seeing, Steve, too many circumstances of people who happen to be both old and also facing, sometimes, debilitating health issues, being in positions of power, influence in the highest levels of government.
Steve: Are you saying there are numerous such people as you walk through the halls of Congress that you think, “Maybe this person shouldn’t be here anymore?”
Dean Phillips: Yes. And I’m not alone. And I think I am one who’s been saying the quiet part out loud more than many of my colleagues would like. I don’t wanna name names, but I know my colleagues know, and I think many Americans who pay attention would recognize that there are probably too many people who are hanging on for personal reasons, it’s their identity, but the answer is, absolutely.
Philip Blumel: Friends, we are having a term limits moment. Do you sense that? I mean, people are talking about term limits everywhere we go, the timing couldn’t be better with the upcoming vote in the house, and then also with the Term Limits convention strategy in full gear. The fact is that the public consciousness is rising, if these politicians were not hearing about term limits daily from their constituents, Republicans and Democrats. They wouldn’t be talking about them. Some Congress members never get the message though, they’re too blinded by self-interest, so let’s [chuckle] finish this episode with the day in the life of an anti-term limits politician, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who was indicted on Friday, again, for corruption. ABC News reported live.
Speaker 10: Welcome back. Federal prosecutors in New York are holding a news conference now after indicting New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez on bribery charges. Let’s listen.
Speaker 11: Today I am announcing that my office has obtained a three-count indictment charging Senator Robert Menendez, his wife Nadine Menendez and three New Jersey businessman, Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes for bribery offenses. The investigation that led to these charges has been run out of the Southern District of New York. The indictment alleges that between 2018 and 2022, Senator Menendez, the senior US senator from New Jersey, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his wife Nadine Menendez engaged in a corrupt relationship with Hana, Uribe and Daibes. The indictment alleges that through that relationship, the senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for Senator Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt.
Speaker 11: The indictment alleges that Hana, Uribe and Daibes provided bribes in the form of cash, gold, home mortgage payments, a low show or a no-show job for Nadine Menendez, a Mercedes-Benz and other things of value to the senator and his wife. The indictment alleges that Senator Menendez took several actions as part of this corrupt relationship, first, the indictment alleges that Senator Menendez used his power and influence, including his leadership role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to benefit the government of Egypt in various ways. Among other actions, Senator Menendez allegedly provided sensitive non-public US government information to Egyptian officials, and otherwise took steps to secretly aid the government of Egypt. We also allege that Senator Menendez improperly pressured a senior official at the US Department of Agriculture to protect a lucrative monopoly that the government of Egypt had awarded to Hana. A lucrative monopoly that Hana then used to fund certain bride payments.
Speaker 11: Second, the indictment alleges that Senator Menendez used his power and influence to try to disrupt a criminal investigation and prosecution undertaken by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office related to an associate and a relative of Uribe. Third, the indictment alleges that Senator Menendez used his power and influence to try to disrupt a federal prosecution of Daibes in the District of New Jersey in two ways. First, by seeking to install a United States attorney who he thought could be influenced with respect to Daibes and second, by trying to influence that office to act favorably in Daibes’ case, and as we allege in the indictment, the Senator agreed to do these things, and use his power in this way, because Hana was paying bribes, because Uribe was paying bribes, and because Daibes was paying bribes. Fortunately, the public officials the Senator sought to influence, did not bend to the pressure, that’s a good thing. Now as part of this investigation, Special Agents with the FBI executed search warrants on the residents and safe deposit box of Senator Menendez and Nadine Menendez in New Jersey. When they got there, they discovered approximately $500,000 of cash stuffed into envelopes and closets.
Speaker 11: Some of the cash was stuffed in the Senator’s jacket pockets, some of the cash, some of the envelopes of cash contained Daibes fingerprints, and Daibes DNA. That’s not all. Agents also discovered a lot of gold, gold that was provided by Daibes and Hana, and the FBI, of course, found the Mercedes-Benz that Uribe had provided them.
Philip Blumel: No wonder Americans of all stripe support term limits. Term limits help discourage corruption like this in many ways, first; they simply reduce tenure, which is highly correlated with corruption, as long tenure encourages both arrogance, hubris and also provides more opportunity. Rarely do people enter public service as a crook on day one, this is something that happens to people over time, as they adopt the mores of a corrupt system. There is a real difference between the soft corruption of political contributions for influence and access versus the felonious corruption of bribes for illegally manipulating machinery of government, but the mentality of both is similar and that line gets blurred over time. Much like term limits preserve the dignity of aging politicians, it is not a stretch to suggest that it can also keep politicians of weak character out of office, and out of prison.
Philip Blumel: This is the second time Senator Menendez has been charged with corruption. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018, after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all the accounts and a judge acquitted Menendez on some charges, but this mistrial did not fool anyone. In April 2018, Menendez was “Severely admonished” by the United States Select Committee on ethics in an official letter that demanded that Menendez return illegal gifts. Surely then, it is no surprise that Senator Bob Menendez is a foe of congressional term limits. He has refused to sign the US term limits’ pledge to co-sponsor and vote for the congressional term limits amendment, of course. Also in 2012, he voted nay to a sense of the Senate non-binding resolution asking whether Congressional terms should be limited. In spite of all this Menendez won re-election to his third term for the US Senate in 2018. And here we are, giving the incumbent advantages that lead to the 90%-plus election rate in the Congress, the corrupt have little to fear. Congress needs term limits. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.
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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 break-through 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 has not been introduced in your state, you can still help. Please consider making a contribution to US term limits. It’s 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.
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