House Republicans are considering relaxing their term limits for committee chairmanships, a move that could help stem the tide of GOP retirements that has rattled the party in recent weeks.
During a steering committee meeting Tuesday night, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy floated the idea of changing the GOP’s long-standing rule that allows members to be the top Republican on a committee for only three terms, regardless of whether they serve in the majority or minority. One idea that was suggested, according to multiple Republican sources who attended the meeting, is allowing a lawmaker’s term as ranking member to not count the same as a chairmanship.
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While the discussions are still in the early stages and no vote has been, it’s a significant consideration for House GOP leaders, who have come under pressure from President Donald Trump to scrap term limits amid a growing list of Republicans who are heading for the exits.
“We had talked about it. There’s always people who argued a ranker shouldn’t count in term limits,” said retiring Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, a member of the GOP steering committee. “But Kevin did think maybe a ranker should equate as one full year, versus two.”
“So there may be some movement on not getting full credit. … They may just value it less,” he added.
The steering committee decided to make at least one change to its term-limits policy: Republican lawmakers voted to ensure a half-term doesn’t count toward the cap.
Although it’s a narrow step, the move could appease longtime Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who took over the House Ways and Means Committee in November 2015 when Paul Ryan relinquished its chairmanship to become speaker. Now, Brady can stay on as the panel’s top Republican until the end of 2022. If someone like Brady were to retire, it would deliver another devastating gut punch to the GOP.
As the retirements started to pile up over the past few months, Trump called on the House GOP to abolish term limits, saying the current policy “forces great people, and real leaders, to leave after serving.”
At least two Republicans who were facing term limits in 2020 have called it quits: Former Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas and former House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah — currently the ranking members on their respective committees.
And Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, is also facing retirement rumors because he will be term limited next year.
“House Republicans should allow Chairs of Committees to remain for longer than 6 years,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “The Dems have unlimited terms. While that has its own problems, it is a better way to go. Fewer people, in the end, will leave!”
But while the caps have prompted some complaints within the Republican Party, others have argued that the turnover in chairmanships has brought fresh blood into the top ranks of the GOP — unlike in the Democratic Party, which imposes no limits on its committee chairmanships and has created a bottleneck of power in its caucus.
Even McCarthy defended the GOP’s term limits earlier this month.
“You can always look at something,” McCarthy said when asked whether the policy has contributed to the wave of retirements. “But I love the idea of fresh blood.”