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Pelosi Agrees to Deal Limiting Her Speakership to 4 Years

Caucus may not formally adopt leadership term limits but Pelosi agrees to hold herself to a maximum of two more terms

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has agreed to limit her pending speakership to a maximum of two more terms to win the support of five members who otherwise opposed her bid.(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has agreed to limit her pending speakership to a maximum of two more terms to win the support of five members who otherwise opposed her bid.(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 11:21 p.m.Nancy Pelosi is doing exactly what she said she wouldn’t in order to secure the votes she needs to be elected speaker — putting an end date on her tenure as the top House Democratic leader. 

Under an agreement reached with seven Democrats who opposed her speaker bid, Pelosi will back term limits for the top three Democratic leaders. The limit she has agreed to will prevent her from serving as speaker beyond another four years. 

“This proposal, which was developed by Members who care about the institution of the House of Representatives, would provide that Members in senior leadership positions can serve 3 terms with an additional term with two-thirds support of the Caucus,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It would include the two terms of the Democratic Majority from 2007 to 2011.”  

The proposal will be brought before the Democratic Caucus for a discussion and a vote by Feb. 15, the California Democrat said.

“I am comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not,” Pelosi said.

In exchange for Pelosi backing the proposal, Reps. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, Linda T. Sánchez of California, Bill Foster of Illinois, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Filemon Vela of Texas and Tim Ryan of Ohio, as well as California Rep.-elect Gil Cisneros, have all agreed to drop their opposition to her speaker bid. 

The seven members party to the deal issued a joint statement thanking Pelosi for her willingness to work with them.

“We are proud that our agreement will make lasting institutional change that will strengthen our caucus and will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders,” they said. “We will support and vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House in the 116th Congress.”

Some of the seven are making abrupt reversals. Just last week a spokesman for Ryan — who challenged Pelosi for House Democratic leader in 2016 —told Roll Call, “He isn’t looking for any deals.” And Vela’s spokeswoman told Roll Call he would be voting for someone other than Pelosi and “nothing can change his mind between now and the floor vote.”

But with those seven members now planning to support her in a Jan. 3 floor vote, Pelosi is expected to be able to get the support she needs to be elected speaker.

She is not yet completely in the clear, however. There are 15 other Democrats not party to the deal who have said they won’t vote for Pelosi, and at least another four who have yet to publicly say how they plan to vote. She needs at least two of those 19 to support her to lock down 218 votes. (It is likely, though, that she has the support of some of those who have been quiet.)

Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York and Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania both confirmed Wednesday the term-limit deal wouldn’t change their minds about opposing Pelosi. 

Not needed?

A source close to Pelosi said she didn’t need this deal to seal her position as speaker, but she wants the biggest vote possible and as much unity as she can muster.

Several Democrats also said they did not think Pelosi needed to back term limits to be elected speaker. A few even felt it was a mistake to agree to limit her tenure but said she probably would not have agreed to it if she had not planned to exit within the next four years anyway.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, an opponent of term limits, is among those who felt Pelosi didn’t need the deal. The Louisiana Democrat doesn’t think she should be putting an end date on her speakership but said, “It’s her call.”

Although many Democrats are against term limits in any form, Richmond predicted Pelosi won’t lose support for backing them because if members don’t agree, they can vote against the proposal.

“It’s just this group of rebels that are pushing for term limits on senior leadership, nobody else is,” he said. “I think these guys are looking for an exit ramp off their suicide mission, and this is their latest attempt at it.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Mark Pocan also felt Pelosi didn’t need to broker the term-limit deal to win the speaker election, just like she didn’t need to expand the leadership team to win her 2016 minority leader election. 

“Sometimes good leaders, always when you negotiate, you’re supposed to give the other side something so they can have face-saving,” the Wisconsin Democrat said. “And Nancy is a good leader, so that could be a component of it.”

Details of deal

The proposal Pelosi and the seven opponents agreed to is for a three-year term limit for the speaker, majority leader and majority whip, with the option of a fourth term if the leaders can secure support of two-thirds of the Democratic Caucus. Typically the leaders only need simple-majority support in the caucus to hold on to their posts. 

The term limits would apply to the current and future holders of those leadership positions. If Democrats are in the minority again, the top three positions of minority leader, minority whip and assistant Democratic leader would also be term-limited but counted separately from the corresponding positions in the majority, according to a source familiar with the agreement.

For the three current leaders — Pelosi, incoming Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and incoming Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina — the limits would be retroactive, meaning the two terms they all served in the majority from 2007 through 2011 would count toward their total. 

If the Democratic Caucus were to adopt the proposal, Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn could only serve for two more terms if they run for their leadership posts again in 2020 and can get two-thirds support of the caucus.

The deal also includes the creation of a development program to provide opportunities for members interested in leadership to learn about current and future operations of the House and its committees, as well as operations pertaining to the Democratic Caucus and its successes, according to the source. 

Contentious debate ahead

Incoming Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told reporters he couldn’t personally take a position on the proposal given that he would be presiding over any caucus deliberations. But the New York Democrat noted that debate over it is likely to be contentious. 

Jeffries said Pelosi had not talked to him about the proposal but he has “agreed with her perspective that to lame-duck herself would not be advantageous as it relates to her leadership and the institution of the House of Representatives.”

“That’s been her position from the very beginning, and I support that view,” he said. 

House Democrats are deeply divided over the merits of term limits, and it’s unclear if the caucus would ultimately adopt this proposal. Both Hoyer and Clyburn oppose term limits and would have some sway over how members vote.

But Pelosi, who as part of the agreement is supposed to whip support for the proposal, will also have influence in any caucus vote. 

If the caucus were to reject the proposal, Pelosi has agreed to abide by it anyway, meaning she will have to hand over the gavel no later than 2022.

That would probably be the best case scenario for Hoyer and Clyburn, because they aren’t party to the agreement and wouldn’t have to adhere to the limit. Not that they’d want to hold on to their current posts when Pelosi gives up the gavel — they’d likely be interested in running for the top spot themselves if they haven’t retired by then. 

Rep. John Lewis said he is opposed to imposing term limits on leadership and predicted the caucus would likely reject the proposal. 

“They’re good effective leaders, let them serve,” the Georgia Democrat said. “The people have every two years to determine who comes and goes.”

Most members have expressed opposition to the proposal or withheld their opinions until they can learn more details, but a few outside of those party to the agreement are on board. 

“I’m all for it, sounds good to me,” Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth said. “I think it’s a very reasonable compromise. It’s a good way to resolve a difficult situation. And I think that it will be a signal to prospective members of the House and younger members of the House that if they stick around, they’ve got a chance to be it.”

While this proposal does not include term limits for committee chairs, Yarmuth, the incoming House Budget head, said he’d be supportive of that too.

Virginia Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who’s open to the proposal but does not think the term limits should be retroactive, said the caucus should have a wide discussion about term limits in general, including for committee leaders. 

But when asked if it’s realistic to think the caucus might adopt the term-limit proposal, Connolly said, “Not right now, for lots of reasons. But no.”

Democrats not backing Pelosi

Democrats not revealing their votes

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