More than two dozen House Democrats huddled in a small room in the Capitol late Monday night to discuss the term limits proposal that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to several months ago in exchange for support for her speakership.
The 90-minute meeting was a listening session on a topic that’s long shown to be an emotional issue with strong feelings from members both for and against term limits in general.
Rep. Hank Johnson, who attended the meeting, told CNN he didn’t think it was “very productive” for the caucus to impose a term limit rule for its leaders, saying it would create lame-duck scenarios.
“It’s like shooting ourselves in the head,” the Georgian said after leaving the meeting.
Meanwhile, those in favor of term limits say it helps provide opportunities for members to rise up quicker to leadership positions and create a pattern of fresh ideas.
As CNN reported in December, the proposal would affect the top three House Democratic leaders, allowing them to serve three terms with the possibility of a fourth term, if re-elected with a two-thirds majority.
Because the deal is retroactive, Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn would be considered already in their third term since they served in their same positions last decade.
When Pelosi struck the deal, she announced the caucus would vote on the rules change on Feb. 15 – a vote that would mainly apply to Hoyer and Clyburn, since Pelosi is already on the record promising to adhere to the limits no matter what. Both Hoyer and Clyburn are vocal opponents of term limits.
But the discussion and vote were continually delayed due to the government shutdown and other issues that have dominated the first three months of this Congress.
Johnson, for one, said he doesn’t sense there is overwhelming support for change in the caucus rules and noted the small attendance of the meeting reflects how the issue has not been a priority.
“It seems like we’ve moved on,” Johnson said. “But this does provide an opportunity for those who are dwelling on that issue to be able to influence others who come.”
In another sign of fading interest on term limits, Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas – who was one of the more outspoken Democrats calling for change during last fall’s speaker race – was not at the meeting Monday night. But, he told CNN earlier in the day that he thinks Pelosi has done a “fantastic job” since becoming speaker again.
“I just felt like at the time we really needed fresh leadership,” he said, recalling last fall. “But I think she’s proven us wrong.”
It’s still the sense among several Democrats – on both sides of the debate – that the caucus will vote on the proposal at some point. But for now, members are in discussion mode to learn more about the various arguments.
At Monday night’s event, members had dinner and expressed both pros and cons of term limits, according to attendees. It was especially a chance for newer members to hear both sides of the debate.
“I’m maintaining an open mind,” freshman Rep. Chuy Garcia, of Illinois, told CNN, saying good arguments were made on both sides. “I haven’t made up my mind yet. I haven’t been swayed, either.”
The meeting was hosted by Rep. Grace Meng, who chairs the Committee on Caucus Procedures, and all Democrats were sent an invitation to the dinner.
Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has long been an opponent of term limits and said he expressed his concerns in the meeting.
“I feel that term limits are artificial,” he said. “We have term limits. They’re called elections.”